Ontarians mourn the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting

People gather in Mel Lastman Square in Toronto on Oct. 29, to mourn the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre. (Courtesy of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

Toronto’s Mel Lastman Square was a sea of flickering candles Monday night, as 5,000 people packed the plaza to remember those killed a few days earlier in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“Now is a time for healing, for standing together with those experiencing inconsolable pain, for saluting the bravery of law enforcement officials and for remembering individuals whose lives so mirror our own,” Adam Minsky, president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, told the crowd.

Eleven people were killed and six injured when a gunman invaded Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue during Shabbat services on Oct. 27.

Minsky urged the crowd to attend synagogue this Shabbat, as a rebuke to hatred and anti-Semitism. “Jewish federations across North America are encouraging everyone to participate in a solidarity Shabbat this coming weekend,” he said. “The deadliest act of anti-Semitism in North American history requires the greatest act of solidarity in response. There is no better way to show our resilience and to demonstrate that hatred will never tear us down.”


Representatives from all levels of government and rabbis from a variety of denominations conveyed a similar message of resilience and a commitment to root out anti-Semitism in Canadian society. The speakers were joined on the dais by Toronto Police Chief Mike Saunders, Israeli Consul General Galit Baram and U.S. Consul General Greg Stanford.

“We all know that, tragically, anti-Semitism has, throughout history, been the most pernicious form of hatred and that the Jewish people have long suffered in the face of violence and hatred, but they must stand alone no more,” said Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction, who was representing the federal government.

“Tonight, all Canada stands with the Jewish community and our resolve to never give in to hatred.”

Several speakers mentioned Joyce Fienberg, who had grown up in Toronto and was among those killed in the shooting.

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair stands for a moment of silence at a vigil to the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in Toronto on Oct. 29. (Courtesy of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

“We are in the depths, in such pain joining the victims of Charleston, of Quebec City and all the victims of hate and intolerance around the world,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue, referring to recent mass shootings in other houses of worship. “I stand here as voice for my congregation’s member, Dr. Robert Libman, brother of one of the victim’s, Joyce Fienberg.”

As the Jewish community begins to mark Holocaust Education Week starting Nov. 1, he said a survivor told him that the shooting rekindled old fears. “Pittsburgh opens up so many old wounds. Seventy-five years later, the world has still not learned, has not been able to get past the hate, the barbarism that we thought by now we could transcend,” said Rabbi Korobkin.

Rabbi Yael Splansky of Holy Blossom Temple remarked that while other mass shootings have horrifically targeted people going to the movies or attending classes, this tragedy was unique in that the shooter was deliberately looking to kill Jews.

“We mourn uniquely now for Joyce Fienberg. Joyce was raised and educated and married at Holy Blossom Temple, where her parents and her teachers taught her Jewish belonging, Jewish identity, Jewish history and Jewish joy. She knew who she was and she knew to whom she belonged and now the whole world knows, too,” said Rabbi Splansky.

Judy Winberg, a cousin of Fienberg’s, read a prayer for peace at the vigil. Shortly after the ceremony, she left for Pittsburgh, to attend Fienberg’s funeral.

Winberg said the family was “heartbroken” by the news of her cousin’s violent death.

From left, Pearl Bell, Joyce Fienberg and Barbara Beck had been friends since they attended Camp Kawagama in Ingleside, Ont., together when they were young. (Courtesy Pearl Bell)

“She was a wonderful person. She was a wonderful wife and mother and grandmother. I think of her six grandchildren and the loss is unbearable,” she said in an interview with The CJN.

Similar vigils have been organized elsewhere in Ontario.

In Ottawa, more than 500 people gathered on Monday evening, to show their solidarity with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

The vigil, which was held at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, was attended by members of the local community – both Jewish and non-Jewish – and representatives of several faith groups, as well as local, provincial and federal politicians.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at a vigil to the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, in Toronto on Oct. 29. (Courtesy of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

On the stage sat 11 empty chairs, each with the name of one of the victims, along with a memorial candle in front of each chair.

Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka told those assembled that “when we are lamenting, we also have to count our blessings,” as he asked everyone to rise and give a standing ovation to those who are protecting our community.

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau offered reassurances to the community, saying that there is no threat to public safety in Ottawa, but that he has reached out to Andrea Freedman, president of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, “to let her know that whatever we can do for your community, we will do.… We recognize the effect that these events can have on the community. Your safety and security is our number 1 priority.”

Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor said that, “What brings us together tonight is not a good thing or a right thing, yet it is a good thing that we have come together and it is the right thing that we have come together.”

People gather in Mel Lastman Square in Toronto on Oct. 29, to mourn the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre. (Courtesy of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

Conservative MPP Lisa McLeod has strong ties to the local Jewish community and said that she was deeply moved by her visit to Israel several years ago, which included a tour of Yad Vashem. “I want you to know that you can count on my continued support for your community and for me to speak out when I see something wrong,” she said.

On behalf of the prime minister, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told the crowd that, “I want you to know that we mourn with you, we pray for you, we promise that as a government, we will do everything possible to keep you safe. I will always stand with members of other parties, with members of our community, I will always stand with you because we are better together.”

Fienberg’s cousin, Dena Libman, said that, “We are all members of one family, only some are closer than others.”

Afterwards, the rabbis of the local congregations joined together onstage to recite psalms, to pray for the recovery of the injured and to speak the names of the 11 victims. Following the chanting of the memorial prayer by Cantor Jason Green, everyone joined him and the rabbis in the singing of Ani Maamin, Hatikvah and Am Yisra’el Chai, to conclude the evening.

Speakers address the crowd at a vigil to the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, in Toronto on Oct. 29. (Courtesy of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

In Hamilton, the city’s three synagogues and the Hamilton Jewish Federation have planned two events to remember the murders.

This evening, the three congregations and other faith communities will gather for a multi-faith solidarity vigil at Temple Anshe Sholom at 7 p.m.

Each congregation will also hold a solidarity Shabbat service on Saturday.

In an email, Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg told The CJN that the community-wide effort is an important display of solidarity with those who were victimized.

“An attack against the Jewish community, wherever it might take place, is an attack on the entire Jewish people,” he wrote.

With files from Diane Koven in Ottawa and Steve Arnold in Hamilton.