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Be a 'light in the darkness'

As a menorah was lit on the downtown Ashland Plaza Sunday night, Umpqua Community College mass shooting survivor Evan Burns asked the assembled crowd to honor the fallen by overcoming fear and helping others.

"You have that capability to be that light in the darkness," Burns said.

Burns, who is Jewish and studies with Rabbi Avi Zwiebel in Ashland, said he recited a traditional Jewish prayer to himself as he hunkered down with other students on the Roseburg campus on Oct. 1. He said the prayer helped calm him, and he knew he would survive.

"People didn't know what to do. People were breaking down," he said.

Burns helped convince students to barricade themselves inside the campus student center. Trapped for hours in the building not knowing whether it was safe to leave, the students eventually became hungry and thirsty. Burns said he found drinks and snacks to distribute to his fellow students.

Zwiebel said Ashland's 13th annual menorah lighting celebration was dedicated to the UCC victims.

Students and an assistant professor were gunned down Oct. 1 by Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, who then shot himself.

The Hanukkah menorah lighting honors the Jewish story of a jug of oil that burned for not just one, but for eight days. 

Zwiebel urged the crowd not to fall into despair about violence in the world.

"Every one of us has that jug of oil within us," he said, asking people to bring light and goodness into the world.

Zwiebel said each small flame can illuminate the darkness.

State Sen. Alan Bates said he is trying to overcome his anger at the frequent mass shootings in America and asked others to try and do the same.

Bates noted the holiday lights hanging throughout downtown Ashland, the menorah and a towering Christmas tree on the Plaza — as well as an American flag hanging at half-mast in a display of mourning for 14 people killed Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif.

"I also see the American flag hanging at half-mast and it seems to be hanging at half-mast most of the time," Bates said.

In the Wednesday attack, Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook attacked a holiday party in what authorities are investigating as an act of terrorism. The heavily armed couple later died in a shootout with police.

While some people carry out terrible deeds, Bates said America is filled with people who care for each other and love one another.

"Let's celebrate our differences and love one another," he said.

Revealing heightened security, three Ashland Police Department vehicles ringed the Plaza and officers kept watch over the gathering.

The ceremony ended with the crowd singing and children dancing to a traditional song about the Jewish dreidel toy.

— Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Rabbi Avi Zwiebel, right, and UCC shooting survivor Evan Burns celebrate the lighting of the first night of Hannukah on the Plaza in downtown Ashland on Sunday evening. Photo by Andy Atkinson