Rabbi Reuben Joshua Poupko looked at the hundreds gathered in his Montreal synagogue Monday night and told the crowd it often doesn’t make sense why the world is filled with such hatred toward Jews.
Poupko is originally from Pittsburgh — the city where 11 Jews were shot dead over the weekend at the Tree of Life Synagogue — and he cried when he said his late father used to be a rabbi in that city for 60 years.
When hateful people imagine “the other,” Poupko said, “they imagine me and you — they imagine the Jew. It makes no sense.”
Surrounded by a heavy presence of police cruisers and security guards, members of Montreal’s Jewish community, politicians and other mourners gathered at Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue to remember those killed during a Sabbath service.
“This is the most important statement,” Poupko said in an interview before the ceremony, acknowledging the size of the crowd. “There are members of all communities here. The Jewish community doesn’t stand alone and it doesn’t grieve alone. The pain is shared by many.”
Brenda Gewurz and her husband, Samuel, were on the balcony overlooking the main prayer hall.
“Montreal is a very close-knit Jewish community and we stand in support of our communities across the world,” she said. “It’s a very sad day and I think it’s important that we acknowledge the sadness.”
Meanwhile, Toronto’s Mel Lastman Square was crowded Monday night with members of the Jewish community who held candles as they sang traditional songs “Lo Yisa Goy” and “Kol Haolam Kulo,” and later stood for a moment of silence.
Among those gathered there were 20 family members of Joyce Fienberg, a 75-year-old who died in the shooting and had previously lived in Toronto. Her funeral is scheduled Wednesday in Pittsburg.
Fienberg’s cousin Judy Winberg led the crowd with a prayer that began with “grant us peace, your most precious gift.”
It was enough to bring Rachel Cohen to tears and hug her seven-year-old son, standing beside her, a little tighter.
“I can’t even imagine what that family has been feeling since they lost their loved one in Pittsburgh,” she said. “I’ve just been thinking that can happen here and we need to stand strong and support each other.”
Sara Lefton, the vice-president of philanthropy at the United Jewish Appeal Federation, said amid tragedy, vigils being held across the country are crucial because those killed in Pittsburgh were “singled out for being Jewish.”
“It’s so important at a time like this for the broader community to come together and recognize that we have to fight back against hate and stand together at a time of difficulty like this.”
Earlier on Monday, leaders of a mosque in Quebec City that was the site of a 2017 mass murder carried out by a lone gunman sent condolences to Pittsburgh’s 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.
The January 2017 attack at the mosque killed six worshippers and injured 19 others.
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 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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday in the House of Commons that Canadians are “horrified” by the Pittsburgh attack.
“Our hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across Canada,” he said. “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.”
Monday’s vigils follow similar gatherings Sunday in Halifax, Vancouver and Ottawa. More events are planned Tuesday in Winnipeg and Hamilton.
The Canadian Press