In February 2015, a group of young Muslims mobilized about 1,000 fellow residents of Oslo, Norway, to form a protective “ring of peace” around the city’s main synagogue. The show of support came soon after the HyperCacher grocery store was attacked in Paris and a Jewish security guard was killed outside a synagogue in Copenhagen.
Intended as a show of support, it also served as an inspiration to Rabbi Yael Splansky of the Holy Blossom Temple, who called on her fellow spiritual leaders to form rings of peace around mosques during Jumu’ah prayers on Friday, Feb. 3.
Hundreds of Jews, Christians and others are expected to surround seven Toronto-area mosques in a show of support in the aftermath of the Quebec City shooting that claimed six lives and wounded 19 others.
“It is a grassroots, faith-based expression of solidarity,” said Rabbi Splansky. “We can thank the good people of Oslo. It’s a good idea.”
Rabbi Splansky wrote to colleagues at the Toronto Board of Rabbis (TBR) asking for support in following the Oslo precedent. The suggestion resonated widely.
Members of Holy Blossom Temple have been asked to gather around the Imdadul Islamic Centre, a Sufi mosque in the Keele Street and Finch Avenue area founded by immigrants from Guyana. They will be joined by members of Fairlawn United Church.
Other rings of peace will see members of City Shul and St. Anne’s Anglican Church gather at the Dawah Centre on Bloor Street West; members of Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Congregation Darchei Noam and Beth Tzedec Congregation will visit the Islamic Foundation in Scarborough; rabbis and members of Temple Emanu-el, Pride of Israel and the Danforth Jewish Circle will partner with Baitul Aman Islamic Centre to meet at the Danforth Islamic Centre; Beth Sholom Synagogue and Ve’ahavta will ring the International Muslim Organization in Rexdale; Solel Congregation and Congregation Har Tikvah will visit at the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga; and Shaarei Beth El Synagogue will partner with the Interfaith Council of Halton outside Al Falah Mosque in Oakville.
In a statement following the Quebec City shooting, TBR president Rabbi Debra Landsberg said, “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 succor to the afflicted; let us insist that life here will not be overturned through the spilling of blood.”
Rabbi Landsberg told The CJN that Jews rallied to support Muslims because “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 Rabbi Jarrod Grover was appalled by the Quebec City shooting.
In an email letter to members of his congregation, Rabbi Grover wrote, “A hate-inspired attack on peaceful worship is an attack on all of us.”
Members of the congregation were invited to join him outside the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, an organization that has participated in several interfaith programs, he said.
“We’re going to be there, to demonstrate solidarity at a difficult time for them. 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,” he said.
“Not only was [the mosque’s imam] OK with it, he was so thankful. It meant a lot to him.”
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of City Shul said news of the rings of peace spread quickly through social media, and she expects 150 people to participate at the Dawah Centre. The message she hopes to convey is that, “We welcome you. We’re part of the neighbourhood. We stand with you,” she said.
In addition to members of the synagogue, Rabbi Goldstein expects students from the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish School to attend, along with members of the First Narayever Congregation and Makom, as well as representatives of St. Anne’s Anglican Church.
“For me, it’s really a message that the Jewish and Christian communities stand with the Muslim community,” Rabbi Goldstein said.
Osman Khan, general secretary of Imdadul Islamic Centre, called the Ring of Peace “a wonderful thing.
“We appreciate all the faith groups reaching out to us and expressing their sentiments. We were in contact with all the faith groups. We welcome the Holy blossom coming and joining us in this difficult time,” Khan said. “That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Asked why the Jewish community was so actively involved in the project, Rabbi Splansky said, “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.