Creating resilient communities in the face of violence

From left, Imam Hassan Guillet, Marnie Fienberg and moderator Farah Nasser take part in a discussion at Holy Blossom Temple in To-ronto on June 17. (Deanna Levy photo)

It seemed as if there was another round of applause each time either of the two speakers finished talking. Marnie Fienberg, the daughter-in-law of Pittsburgh shooting victim Joyce Fienberg, who was raised in Toronto and attended Holy Blossom Temple, and Imam Hassan Guillet, who is perhaps best known for his speech after the Quebec City mosque attack, spoke at an event called “Antisemitism and Islamophobia: Moving from Hate to Hope,” at Holy Blossom in Toronto on June 17.

In a conversation moderated by Global News anchor Farah Nasser, Fienberg and Imam Guillet touched on a number of topics, including how to build strong and resilient communities, how to balance security and freedom, and how to work together to combat hatred.

An important message that both Fienberg and Imam Guillet mentioned over and over was how vital it is to remain strong and proud in the face of hatred and violence.

“Somebody came, managed to take away the lives of people. But you should not give him … the chance of killing our society the same way he killed six people in the mosque,” Imam Guillet said. “The only way to keep our mosques and our synagogues and our churches open is by opening our hearts.”

Fienberg, who previously worked for the United States Department of Homeland Security, also spoke about practical measures that can be taken to keep religious communities safe. For example, she said schoolchildren in the United States perform fire drills once every month and active shooters drills once every quarter, and houses of worship should do the same.

Fienberg credited the families of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Fla., with pushing for the regular implementation of such drills. She said she knows this because the families of victims of mass shootings throughout North America stay in touch.


Nasser pointed out that it can be difficult to discuss with children why they need to repeat these drills. Fienberg said educators and teachers would be better equipped to answer that question, but reminded the audience why the drills are so integral.

“If you don’t practice it, if you don’t know what to do, you freeze,” said Fienberg. “That’s why people practice it over and over and over.”

Imam Guillet added that although new security measures may be necessary to make people feel safe, external security measures don’t address the root causes of violence.

“Security should come from inside, not by having a policeman at each door and behind each tree. Security should come by education, by knowing each other,” he said. “We are not fixing the real problem, which is justice, equality and the brotherhood between people.”

Fienberg argued that it’s also important to be cognizant of the cost of increased security.

“What are we giving up when we start not trusting each other, not trusting our neighbour, not trusting the person in line next to us? There has to be a balance,” she said. “This is an open place. This is a place where everyone is welcome. This is a place of love. Every mosque, every church, every synagogue, every Hindu temple.”

As devastating as the actions of the Quebec City and Pittsburgh shooters were, both Fienberg and Imam Guillet said they learned a lot about humanity’s capacity for love from the response to these horrific events.

“How much love is there in this world? The monsters are us, but at the same time, the angels are us,” said Fienberg, adding that one person cannot destroy that kind of love.

Imam Guillet agreed with Fienberg, saying that these events showcased both the worst and best of us, and that we all have to stand up to the corrosive power of hatred.

“Don’t think that fighting anti-Semitism is to protect the Jews or fighting Islamophobia is to protect the Muslims. It’s to protect the whole society,” he said.

Both Imam Guillet and Fienberg have made major changes in their lives to actively combat hatred since the attacks in Quebec City and Pittsburgh, respectively. Imam Guillet will be running as the Liberal candidate in the Montreal riding of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel in the upcoming federal election. And Fienberg left her job in communications and consulting for the American government to start 2 for Seder, an initiative to combat anti-Semitism by inviting non-Jews to celebrate Passover and learn about Jewish culture and history.