MONTREAL—Jewish communities and citizens across Canada gathered together over the weekend to commemorate the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and condemn what one rabbi described as “an outrageous act of evil.”
Vigils and rallies were organized in a number of Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, and Vancouver.
In Ottawa, more than 300 people packed into the Soloway Jewish Community Centre for an evening memorial service on Oct. 28, lining the walls and taking every available chair—except 11, left vacant on the stage, each bearing the name of one of the victims.
Dena Libman, whose cousin Joyce Fienberg was among those killed, addressed the crowd of residents, religious leaders, and politicians from all parties and levels of government.
She said that in the Jewish world, it feels like everyone is a member of the same family—it’s just that some are closer than others.
Afterwards, she said there is healing that comes from gathering as a community.
“I felt the collective grief, and the collective vision to go forward,” she said.
Several armed police officers stood sentry over the event, although Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau told the crowd there are no existing threats against the community.
Federal Liberal cabinet minister and local MP Catherine McKenna called it sad that such security was a fact of life for Jewish communities.
She pointed to Statistics Canada data showing that Jews were the most targeted minority for hate crimes, saying anti−Semitism is not just an issue for the United States.
“It is times like this that we stand together, that we are outraged together … and that we remember that we are better together,” McKenna said.
Montreal−based Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who is originally from Pittsburgh, said no Jewish community was left untouched by the shooting, which left 11 people dead and six injured, including four police officers.
A vigil set for Oct. 29 evening at Montreal’s Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue will be a chance for community members to draw hope and strength from each other, he said in a phone interview.
“All of us can relate to what happened,” Poupko said. “We go to synagogues that look just like [Tree of Life] synagogue. Our ties and bonds of history and of solidarity and our values are very strong.”
Poupko said Jewish people have always been targets of hate crimes, both in Canada and elsewhere, but he said they’ve never experienced anything like the mass shooting of Oct. 27.
“Eleven people murdered in a synagogue in an outrageous act of evil,” he said, becoming emotional as he spoke about 97−year−old Rose Mallinger, a Holocaust survivor who died in the Pittsburgh shooting.
“To survive the Holocaust and find refuge in a free country and lose your life doing what you’re supposed to do, going to synagogue on a Saturday morning … is not a thing that is easily understood,” he said.
Poupko said Montreal’s synagogues were remaining open and the community would continue to fight acts of hate in the only way they know how, “which is to lead lives of tolerance.”
Senior Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Shalom in Vancouver said the community planned to hold a memorial on the afternoon of Oct. 28 at the city’s Jewish Community Centre.
“It came together out of a need to not feel alone and isolated at a time when we feel very vulnerable as a community,” he said.
“Remarkably, this man who tried to destroy and tear down our faith tradition had just the opposite effect.”
The suspected gunman in the Pittsburgh attack, 46−year−old Robert Gregory Bowers, faces dozens of state and federal charges, including hate crimes, and is due in court on Oct. 29.
When the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, the rabbi there would have been reading the same scripture that Moskovitz read to his Vancouver congregation, he said. Jewish tradition dictates that the same Torah passages are read on the same weekends around the world.
“So we were reading the same story they were reading—and strikingly, it was a story about welcoming the stranger,” Moskovitz said.
“That’s why the doors of the synagogue are open, so that anybody can come in, seek shelter, seek comfort, and seek peace.”
While the incident has created fear, he said he would encourage congregation members to focus on love and not hatred.
Elsewhere in Ottawa, mourners planned to gather in front of the Human Rights Monument late on Oct. 28 for what was described as a solidarity vigil against anti−Semitism and white supremacy.
The organizers said in a statement that the event would be both an act of mourning and a demonstration against acts of racism and bigotry around the world.
“As Jews, anti−racist activists and residents of Ottawa, we want to send the message that hate crimes against Jews do not exist in isolation from the violent rise of white supremacy around the globe,” co−organizers Genevieve Nevin and Darrah Teitel wrote.
Another demonstration took place in front of Montreal’s Holocaust Museum on the afternoon of Oct. 28, while an event was also expected to take place in Halifax.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Toronto−based advocacy group, said similar events were also planned in Hamilton in Winnipeg.