As the congregation of Holy Blossom Temple arrived at the Toronto synagogue Saturday morning for Shabbat, they were welcomed by a throng of people from different faiths who stood in a semi-circle around the entrance. Some looked sombre, while others talked in small groups and sipped coffee, but among the crowd, there was a sense of community and pride. A Jewish woman approached a cluster of young Muslim men and shook their hands, tears in her eyes. Others did the same, making their way along the line of people and saying “Shabbat Shalom, thank you.”
The gathering at Holy Blossom was one of seven “rings of peace” at Toronto shuls on Saturday — a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Jewish community after 11 worshippers were shot and killed in Pittsburgh, including Joyce Fienberg, who grew up in Toronto and had attended Holy Blossom.
The crowd came by bus from all over Toronto, and during the Shabbat service, they sang songs of peace and spoke about kinship and shared values.
“It touches my heart,” said Moezzam Alvi, a member of the Masjid Al-Farooq mosque in Mississauga. “It is important that places of worship are respected and people should be free of fear when they come to those places.” Alvi said he prays that such a tragedy won’t happen again, and that those who are grieving find peace.
The idea originated nearly two years ago after the shooting at a Quebec City mosque that left six people dead and 19 injured. After hearing about the attack, Holy Blossom senior rabbi Yael Splansky spoke with Jewish community leaders and others who wanted to show sympathy and support for the Muslim community. They decided to form rings around seven Toronto-area mosques by holding hands. Splanksy was invited inside the Imdadul Islamic Centre to address the congregation—the first woman and Jew to do so. “It felt great for us to have something to do,” she said. “It felt great for the people inside the sanctuary, to know that fellow Canadians are showing up.”
When Imdadul Islamic Centre secretary Osman Khan heard about Saturday’s shooting, he reached out to Splansky to ask if he and his community could express support at the synagogue and organized an effort with other community leaders to expand to seven locations. “Being Muslim, we are told we have a commitment to treat other human beings [as] our brothers and sisters,” he said.
As well as showing solidarity, these Rings of Peace symbolize protection and the defence of safe worship spaces. “[There’s] a difference between being safe and feeling safe. Those are not always the same thing,” said Splansky in an earlier interview. On Saturday, although police cars roamed the streets surrounding the synagogue and two security guards checked purses at the door, the atmosphere was welcoming. “You don’t want to be a fortress,” Splansky said.
Khan said there are many more synagogues who invited communities of other faiths to gather outside their doors, and he hopes to organize more Rings of Peace in the coming weeks. “Whatever happens, we’re not alone, we’re bonded by faith,” he said. “Ultimately we’re connected.”