About 300 members of the Jewish community held hands and circled Toronto’s Imdadul Islamic Centre during Friday prayers in a show of support and solidarity in the wake of the Quebec City mosque attack.
Organized by Rabbi Yael Splansky, spiritual leader of Holy Blossom Temple and mobilized by a last-minute social media campaign and through direct emails, the Imdadul “ring of peace” was one of at least seven held in the Toronto area. Others were held in cities across Canada.
The ring of peace “is a grassroots faith-based expression of solidarity,” said Rabbi Splansky. It was inspired by the February 2015 ring of peace in Oslo, Norway, when young Muslim leaders called on others in the city to form a protective circle around the city’s main synagogue following terrorist attacks on Jews in Paris and Copenhagen.
“We can thank the good people of Oslo. It’s a good idea,” said Rabbi Splansky.
Muslim leaders thanked members of the Jewish community for their support. Haroom Sheriff, president of the Imdadul Islamic Centre, located near Keele Street and Finch Avenue, said, “This is wonderful support. They are welcome at the Imdadul Islamic Centre. We very much appreciate this kind of support for the Muslim community.”
Osman Khan, general secretary of the centre, called the ring of peace “a wonderful thing” and he thanked the Jewish community for demonstrating “solidarity with us and for understanding that what happened in Quebec City affected the community. Our Muslim community is nervous at this time.
“With the support of the Holy Blossom community, we feel a bit less sad. We feel we don’t have to face this all alone, that we have friends in faith groups who’ve come together in this time of need,” Khan said.
Imam Abdul Aziz Suraqah, spiritual leader of the centre, said “it is important to build bridges,” not give in to fear and to “reach out to the wider community.”
He called the presence at the mosque of hundreds of supporters “heartwarming” and a demonstration that Muslims are not alone.
Inspired by the Oslo example, Rabbi Splansky wrote to colleagues at the Toronto Board of Rabbis asking for support in a planned ring of peace. The suggestion resonated widely.
In addition to the show of solidarity at the Imdadul Islamic Centre, about 150 people from City Shul, First Narayever Congregation, Congregation Darchei Noam, Makom, St. Anne’s Anglican Church and the College Street and Windermere United churches formed their own ring of peace outside the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International on Bloor Street West, where 250 worshippers had gathered for midday prayers.
People outside carried signs that read: “We are your friends,” “No hate in Canada,” “Peace upon our Muslim neighbours,” and “Interfaith support for all.”
“It’s important to stand up against hate and intolerance,” said Jay Brodbar, a member of Darchei Noam.
Other rings of peace saw members of the Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Darchei Noam and Beth Tzedec Congregation visited the Islamic Foundation in Scarborough; rabbis and members of Temple Emanu-El, Pride of Israel and the Danforth Jewish Circle partnered with Baitul Aman Islamic Centre on Danforth Avenue; Beth Sholom and Ve’ahavta ringed the International Muslim Organization in Rexdale; Solel Congregation and Congregation Har Tikvah visited the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga; and Shaarei-Beth El Congregation partnered with the Interfaith Council of Halton outside Al Falah Mosque in Oakville.
In Montreal, about 50 men and women of all ages, mostly from Congregation Beth Tikvah, visited nearby Canadian Islamic Centre al-Jamieh in the West Island suburb of Dollard des Ormeaux Feb. 3 to express their solidarity and sympathy with their Muslim neighbours.
“We wish we could have come in a time of joy instead of grief,” Rabbi Mordechai Zeitz, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Tikvah, told members of the mosque.
Like Rabbi Zeitz, most of the visitors had never been inside the mosque and had had little contact with the approximately 1,200 people who worship there. The mosque is a former synagogue that was sold to the Muslims around 2000.
The visitors were thanked profusely and received warmly by leaders and those gathering for Friday afternoon prayers. Some visitors brought flowers. They then moved outside to hold hand-made signs with messages such as “Unissons contre le haine” (“Unite against hate”) and “We Stand with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters/Love & Empathy Must Prevail.”
In a statement published following the Quebec City shooting, Toronto Board of Rabbis president Rabbi Debra Landsberg, stated, “Such violence is intended to instil fear and to sunder the bonds that bind the people of this country. Standing arm in arm with all Canadians of goodwill, let us resolve to redouble our commitment to our shared life in Canada, through small acts of decency bringing succour to the afflicted. Let us insist that life here will not be overturned through the spilling of blood.”
Rabbi Landsberg told The CJN “there is a sense that fellow citizens were under risk for who they are. That’s why this action is resonating among Jews.”
Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Jarrod Grover was appalled by the Quebec City shooting.
In an email to members of his congregation, Rabbi Grover wrote, “A hate-inspired attack on peaceful worship is an attack on all of us.”
“The Muslim community in Canada is feeling afraid that they’ve come to a country – because many are immigrants – where their religious tradition is not respected. The best tool to combat hatred is to show love and unity,” Rabbi Grover added.
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of City Shul said news of the ring of peace spread quickly through social media. The message she hopes to convey is that, “We welcome you. We’re part of the neighbourhood. We stand with you,” she said.
“For me, it’s really a message that the Jewish and Christian communities stand with the Muslim community,” Rabbi Goldstein said.
Asked why the Jewish community was so actively involved in the project, Rabbi Splansky explained, “Jews can’t sit still. We put deed over creed. We’re all about taking a leap of action.
“When it comes to the mitzvah of welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbours as ourselves, we do it through deeds. That’s our impulse,” she said.
With files from Janice Arnold and Barbara Silverstein