As Jewish students arrive over the next week for the new academic year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Shlomo and Channa Mayer will be there for them. They will be there for them as they always are, but now even more so in the wake of the neo-Nazi march and ensuing terrorist car attack that have deeply impacted the city, its residents and the college campus.

Over the past week, the couple has connected with students, parents and alumni by phone, email and on social media—offering guidance, comfort and reassurance. Discussions are in the works about ways to address the issues that have come out of these very troubling incidents.

“Everybody is still trying to recalibrate because it’s been like a 180-degree turn of everything life has ever been here,” says Channa Mayer, speaking of their college town. “We want to make sure they know we are available to them,” she says, “and give the inspiration that Judaism can offer.”

Mayer says the community, in turn, is grateful for the encouragement and support they continue to receive. “It’s beautiful to see so many people rallying and supporting Charlottesville from across the United States. People outside the community want to hear your thoughts and feelings, but we are still processing it ourselves.”

Mayer saw that firsthand when she attended a vigil on campus Wednesday night, prompted by students, faculty and local residents.

Thousands gathered on the enormous lawn in front of the university Rotunda in a show of peace and solidarity following days of tension after a rally spearheaded by hate groups over the weekend resulted in street violence and the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. They walked the same route where torch-bearing white nationalists chanted anti-Semitic and racist slurs on Aug. 11 while protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

For several hours, people sang songs, held candles and stood side by side in unison as they walked across the grounds.

“It was really heartening to see thousands of people together,” says Mayer, co-director of the Rohr Chabad House of the University of Virginia with her husband since 2002.

The Chabad House at the University of Virginia
The Chabad House at the University of Virginia

With students returning to school—freshman arrive this weekend—Mayer has already heard from parents and alumni who want to do whatever they can to help their community. In fact, one alumnus is spearheading a fundraising effort to increase security in and around the Chabad House.

The acts of kindness and concern nationwide that have happened in the melee’s aftermath shows that “when darkness appears, bright light can appear ever larger,” says Mayer. “We are trying to bank on that—to harness good things we can do instead of being sucked into dark feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.”