Hundreds of Jews and other Canadians formed “rings of peace” around mosques across Canada on Friday in a show of interfaith solidarity with Muslims following a deadly shooting attack during prayers at a Quebec City mosque January 29.
Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French Canadian student known for far-right nationalist views, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder for the rampage that left six dead and 19 wounded.
After Splansky floated the idea by her pan-denominational colleagues and gained support from Toronto Board of Rabbis, many of the city’s synagogues worked together to rally people to come out midday on Friday to encircle seven mosques throughout the Greater Toronto Area. The mosques were all receptive to the gesture, and in some cases local churches partnered in the interfaith effort.
Rings of peace and solidarity visits to mosques also took place on Friday in other Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal, Halifax and St. John’s.
“Their pain is our pain too,” Rabbi Jarrod Grover told Inside Toronto. On Friday Grover joined the demonstration at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.
“These people are our friends. You attack them, you attack all of us. We’re going to stand in solidarity with them,” said Grover of Beth Tikvah Synagogue.
Splansky told The Times of Israel she came up with the idea after sending a condolence letter to leaders of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, the Muslim congregation that was targeted.
“Words are just words. But then I suddenly remembered having read about how two years ago Muslims formed a ring of peace around a synagogue in Oslo, Norway after murderous attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen. I thought that could be something we could do here — only in reverse, with Jews showing solidarity with Muslims,” Splansky said.
‘Words are just words’
Rabbi Adam Cutler of Beth Tzedec Congregation also joined a peace ring at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto. He told Inside Toronto that the Quebec City attack was “an atrocity.”
“It is absolutely a Jewish value to love your neighbor, to fight against intolerance and hate, and a way to do that is to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities who are feeling at risk and who are feeling fearful,” said Cutler.
Splansky and some 250 others circled the Imdadul Islamic Centre while the congregation was inside for the midday Jum’ah prayer. Holy Blossom had an existing relationship with the mosque, with the temple’s bar and bat mitzvah class having just visited the previous Monday as part of its world religions studies.
“They had kosher pizza waiting for the kids. It was so sweet of them,” Splansky said.
When the prayer service ended, the ring broke and everyone came to the front of the mosque to greet the exiting congregants with songs of peace, including Israeli singer-songwriter Mosh Ben Ari’s “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” which includes the Arabic word for peace, “Salaam.”
“Some of the congregants were very startled and moved. Some had tears in their eyes. The younger ones took out their phones and filmed what was happening so they could have evidence,” Splansky said.
It was the first time that not only a rabbi had been accorded this honor in this particular mosque, but also a woman
“One of the congregation’s leaders, a man named Mohammed, told me he was impressed to see people of all ages had come out — from old people with canes to babies in strollers. Parents had taken kids out of school for this,” the rabbi said.
Imam Yusuf Badat of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto welcomed the support from his Jewish “brothers and sisters.”
“They are standing with us,” Badat told Inside Toronto.
“It makes me proud as a Canadian, as a Muslim, as a human being that we have such wonderful souls within our communities that understand and are there to give their helping hand,” said Badat.
Several of the Muslim congregations invited rabbis to enter the mosques and speak. Splansky herself was invited into Imdadul Islamic Centre during the prayer service to address the worshipers. It was the first time that not only a rabbi had been accorded this honor in this particular mosque, but also a woman.
“It was totally spontaneous. They just grabbed me out of the ring and asked me to come in and speak. I expressed our condolences and told them they are not alone, that we stand with them. We are blessed to live in a country that is a sanctuary for religious freedom, and we must never be afraid to enter a house of God,” Splansky said.
The rabbi also directly alluded to those standing outside the mosque in the ring of peace by highlighting the importance of putting words and prayer into action. She emphasized that the ring was not a political protest, but rather what she called “prayer in motion.”
According to Splansky, her congregants and other Canadian Jews were grateful for the opportunity for this outlet for their pent up feelings about the Quebec attack, as well political events south of the border.
“We know what we stand for and what we don’t. And we are fortunate and grateful that our work is supported by our government,” she said.