Canadians express solidarity after attack on Pittsburgh synagogue
"Our hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across Canada," says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
MONTREAL – A national display of sympathy and solidarity grew Monday following Saturday’s murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.
Major multi-faith vigils were set to begin Monday night in Toronto and Montreal – the two Canadian cities with the largest Jewish populations – as well as in Edmonton.
And in Quebec City, leaders of a mosque that was the site of a 2017 mass murder carried out by a lone gunman sent condolences to Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.
“It reminds us of the difficult moments we went through, and it brings back some of that worry,” Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah said in an interview Monday.
In a statement, the centre’s board decried “the madness of men” that “struck our Jewish neighbours of Pittsburgh … who were only praying in a sacred and untouchable place …. Today we understand very well the pain that Jewish families feel, and we are wholeheartedly with them.”
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians are “horrified” by the Pittsburgh attack, which occurred at a Sabbath service.
“Our hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across Canada,” he told the House of Commons. “May the families of those murdered be comforted and may the injured recover quickly and fully. We’re working with U.S. authorities and ready to assist if required. Mr. Speaker, we will always stand united against hatred, intolerance, anti-Semitism and violence.”
The January 2017 attack at the Quebec City mosque killed six worshippers and injured 19 others.
In the months since the attack, Benabdallah said, a new reality has set in at the mosque. Open doors have given way to concrete barriers near the front door, magnetized locks and security cameras.
“What more can we do? It’s terrible,” Benabdallah said. “Are we going to keep on living like this, barricaded?”
But he acknowledged such measures are necessary “until such time as things calm down and return to normal.”
Monday’s vigils follow similar gatherings Sunday in Halifax, Vancouver and Ottawa. More events are planned Tuesday in Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ont.
In Ottawa, more than 300 people packed into the Soloway Jewish Community Centre for a memorial service, 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. Fienberg grew up in Toronto.
More than 100 people attended a vigil at Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Halifax Sunday.
Senior Rabbi Raysh Weiss said she was “shocked and devastated” by Saturday’s tragedy, but she said the outpouring of support following the attack helped bring some light to the dark weekend.
“There’s not much one can say. It’s just horrible,” she said. “But the antidote to moments like these is coming together in community and solidarity, and in love and peace, to say: This is not going to stop us from being who we are.”
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who is originally from Pittsburgh, said Monday’s Montreal gathering will be a chance for community members to draw hope and strength from each other.