Members of Toronto’s Muslim and Christian communities will be forming “rings of peace” around Toronto-area shuls this Shabbat, in a show of solidarity with the local Jewish community, in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The gesture echoes the rings of peace formed around mosques in February 2017, following the shooting in Quebec City.
Rings of peace are formed by people holding hands in a circle around a place of worship. The idea was first brought to Toronto last year by Rabbi Yael Splansky of Holy Blossom Temple, who remembered seeing a photograph of Muslim people forming a ring of peace around a synagogue in Oslo that had been threatened. She contacted other Jewish leaders and suggested doing the same in Toronto.
Seven rings of peace were eventually formed by Jewish people and others who wanted to show their solidarity with the Muslim community. Rabbi Splansky was later asked to address the congregation at the Imdadul Islamic Centre. She was the first woman and the first Jew to be invited into the sanctuary where the men pray.
“I told them they were right to come to Canada and to know they would be protected and would have freedom of religion here,” said Rabbi Splansky. “That was a very meaningful day. We never forgot it and they never forgot it.”
When Osman Khan, general secretary of the Imdadul Islamic Centre, heard about the attack in Pittsburgh, he remembered the gesture from the Jewish community almost two years ago and what it meant to his community. So he and other Islamic leaders in the Greater Toronto Area helped organize the upcoming rings of peace around synagogues.
“We are people of faith. We came from one lineage. We have to answer our creator on our actions to our fellow human beings. We may have different beliefs, but we are brothers and sisters unto each other,” said Khan. “There are Christians and atheists who will be joining us, because they believe in standing in solidarity with what has happened in the States. The senseless killing at the Tree of Life synagogue resonated with every human being.”
As of this writing, rings of peace are planned to circle at least five synagogues this Shabbat – Holy Blossom, Beth Tzedec, Solel, City Shul and Temple Har Zion – with as many as six more in the works.
Khan said that extra focus will be paid to Holy Blossom, because one of the women killed in Pittsburgh, Joyce Fienberg, was married there and many of her cousins are still members. He also highlighted the relationship between Holy Blossom and the Imdadul Islamic Centre.
“Every year, rabbis and members of the Holy Blossom Temple bring their busloads of children to the Imdadul Centre to learn about the close relationships between our two faiths … and to build a camaraderie between their children and our children,” he said.
As the rabbi of a congregation that was especially affected by the massacre, Rabbi Splansky welcomes the show of solidarity from the Muslim community and anyone else who wants to join them.
“It reinforces what we know is true: that most people are good and most people are kind and most people are empathetic and compassionate and are willing to give of their precious time to express what is good and just. We know that’s true,” she said. “The hard part is that it just takes one hateful person to do a lot of damage. But this Shabbat, I believe we’re going to see … that people are good. That’s the basic message. It’s to try to restore our faith in one another.”
Rabbi Splansky also stressed that every message of solidarity is meaningful.
“They do help when otherwise we might be fearful and bent by our grief,” she said. “This kindness is our best comfort and our best response to last week’s hateful attack.”