Eisen: A Shabbat of reflection and hope

(Wendy R. Eisen photo)

Dear Family and Friends:

I am writing to share an experience that my husband and I had today after what has been a heart-wrenching week, following the tragic massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. Although there has been an outpouring of condolences and support through the national media and rallies, all Jews are feeling vulnerable.  

In response to a longing to be together, members of the North American Jewish community were asked to #ShowupforShabbat.  This clarion call impelled us, plus thousands of other Jews, to flock to Toronto synagogues.

As Elliott and I approached ours — Holy Blossom Temple — we saw buses parked outside. They had carried Muslims and Christians, who then stood shoulder to shoulder forming a ring of peace around our building. My tears flowed easily as I walked along the line, thanking people for coming. Even now, as I re-live the experience through these words, my eyes are tearing.

Once the service began, one looked around to see a sanctuary filled from the first to the very last row with Jews, all of whom wanted to be together.  Scattered among our members were many non-Jews, Muslims and Christians and some government leaders — tangible evidence of the outpouring of unity, solidarity and compassion for their Jewish brethren.

Our rabbi, Yael Splansky, has a unique gift. With heartfelt warmth and compassion and with the most touching words, she expressed what everyone was feeling. Speaking with profound sadness about last week’s tragedy, she evoked an uplifting of spirits due to the outpouring of support by so many of those who wish the Jewish community well. 

Not only is Rabbi Splansky a community builder, she builds bridges, having initiated a ring of peace around a Toronto mosque last February, following a shooting at a mosque in Quebec. “Today’s gesture is not one of reciprocation,” she announced. “Men and women of different faiths are standing outside many Toronto synagogues, just doing what they believe to be right.”

A Muslim leader addressed us briefly expressing condolences on behalf of the Muslim community.

Among the 11 good men and women whose lives were taken last Shabbat, was Joyce Fienberg, one of our own. Joyce was raised in Toronto at Holy Blossom. She was confirmed and married there before moving with her husband to Pittsburgh. All of her cousins still live in Toronto — in fact one of her first cousins is Holy Blossom’s president.

This week’s regular Shabbat service morning was filled with much emotion, enhanced by the chanting of the Torah by a bat mitzvah girl who is the granddaughter of our beloved Cantor, who blessed this lovely child with a special song.

Upon leaving, I spoke with a fine Muslim gentleman who said that he had visited four synagogues this morning.  

So how am I feeling after leaving Temple today?  Emotionally drained, yet proud. The anguish of last Saturday has been assuaged a bit, replaced by a glimmer of hope.  Perhaps by promoting unity, understanding and respect, humankind will be working toward a growing awareness of love and peace.  

Let’s pray that it will ring true! 

Shabbat Shalom,



For more in our #SolidarityShabbat series, please click here.