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Canada reacts: Jewish communities across the country mourn following Pittsburgh tragedy

Last Updated Oct 28, 2018 at 6:46 pm MDT

Gideon Murphy places a flower at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Robert Bowers, the suspect in Saturday's mass shooting at the synagogue, expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die, according to charging documents made public Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Local Jewish congregations planning vigils, mourning loss of 11 people killed in Pittsburgh shooting

One victim in shooting grew up in Toronto

MONTREAL – Canadians are mourning the loss of 11 lives in Pittsburgh after a gunman opened fire in a synagogue Saturday.

First responders and law officials in the Pennsylvania city said over the weekend this massacre was one of the worst scenes they’ve been too, and Sunday more details about the victims emerged. North of the border, Canadians are hurting for the lives lost and are holding vigils in solidarity of the U.S. and Jewish communities rocked by the tragedy.

WATCH: Pittsburgh shooting victims identified

Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who is originally from Pittsburgh, says no Jewish community has been left untouched by the shooting that left 11 people dead, calling the tragedy “an outrageous act of evil”.

He says a vigil set for Monday night at Montreal’s Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue will be a chance for community members to give each other hope and strength.

“Eleven people murdered in a synagogue in an outrageous act of evil,” he said. The suspected gunman, Robert Gregory Bowers, faces dozens of federal and state charges, including hate crimes, and is due in court on Monday.

Poupko became emotional as he spoke about 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, a Holocaust survivor who died in the shooting.

“To survive the Holocaust and find refuge in a free country and lose your life doing what you’re supposed to do, going to synagogue on a Saturday morning … is not a thing that is easily understood,” he said, his voice breaking.

He said his community is comforted by the support of other faith groups and ordinary citizens, who have come together to unanimously denounce the violence. Poupko said Montreal’s synagogues were remaining open and the community would continue to fight acts of hate in the only way they know how.

“The best way is to continue to do what we do with greater intensity,” he said, “which is to lead lives of tolerance, to lead lives where we understand that ultimately the power of good is more powerful than evil, where we continue to strengthen the bonds between individuals and communities and hope the light will block out the darkness.”

Another demonstration took place in front of Montreal’s Holocaust museum Sunday afternoon.

The organization posted on Facebook, saying, “The Montreal Holocaust Museum expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the horrific massacre which took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We stand in solidarity with Jewish communities around the world… When hate is legitimized, when we allow the constant disparaging of minorities through speech, hateful acts follow.”

READ MORE: Married couple, brothers among the 11 victims in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

In Toronto, the local Jewish community shared the message there’s no place for hate in this world Saturday night. People at one of many vigils listened to prayers, shared candles, and mourned each life lost.

“I really feel like we have to do something,” Abby Stein told CityNews. “This is something that really affected everyone in the Jewish community.”

Abby helped organized a small gathering at Moishe House, a Jewish space connecting young people in the GTA.

“It’s extremely devastating and unfortunately expected. That makes it more bad, more sad, and makes me more angry,” Stein said. “Tonight we mourn, tomorrow we resist.”

Even with no direct threat in Toronto, police say they’ve increased patrols.

“This was an attack on the entire Jewish people and the community here feels it was an attack on the community here and every other Jewish community in the world,” said Steve Shulman, Senior Vice President of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

WATCH: Toronto Jewish community reacts to Pittsburgh shooting

Religious leaders say there is no one problem to point a finger at–not even rhetoric from U.S. President Donald Trump, which critics have called extremely divisive.

“Antisemitism has been there before the current president and will be there after the current president. Hate doesn’t need a president… but certainly, words matter and words of leaders everywhere matter.”

A rabbi says one of the 11 people killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue grew up in Toronto. A statement from Rabbi Yael Splansky shared on Facebook says 75-year-old Joyce Fienberg grew up in the Holy Blossom Temple community.

Splansky says Fienberg was married at the temple, and her confirmation photo is on its wall of honour. Fienberg spent most of her career as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, studying learning in the classroom and in museums.

READ MORE: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victim grew up in Toronto

In Ottawa, mourners will gather in front of the Human Rights Monument late this afternoon for what is being described as a solidarity vigil against antisemitism and white supremacy. The organizers said in a statement that the event will be both an act of mourning and a demonstration against acts of racism and bigotry around the world.

In the prairies, a number of cities have vigils planned for the coming days.

“The Jewish community suffered an unimaginable tragedy in Pittsburgh. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, the Tree of Life Congregation, as well as the law enforcement and community of Pittsburgh,” said Elaine Goldstine, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, in an emailed statement.

She goes on to say that the federation has been in constant communication with the police–reassurance that there is no immediate threat to Winnipeg-area Jews.

“The WPS has confirmed that they have bolstered their presence and increased patrolling near the Asper Jewish Community Campus (AJCC) and the other Jewish institutions in the city. Safety and security remains a top priority. We constantly review and renew our safety procedures and are confident in the protocols we have set in place.”

READ MORE: Gunman attacks Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people

Goldstine says there will be a vigil Tuesday, October 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Shaarey Zedek for those looking to mourn and stand in solidarity with the people of Pittsburgh.

“Our community is resilient. In response to hate, we will continue to live our lives as Canadian Jews who proudly contribute to our shared society. We will continue to congregate and engage in communal activities with pride and resolve.”

People in Alberta’s two major cities will also be able to attend local vigils and ceremonies. Edmonton’s Jewish Federation posted on Facebook like many other Jewish associations, mourning the victims and reassuring it’s congregation that there is no immediate threat.

“I would like to stress that we have not received any indication that there is an increased threat in Canada. That being said, we must continue to remain vigilant and that we follow our existing security protocols. If you see anything suspicious, or anything of concern, we urge you to call 911 and report it immediately to law enforcement,” Saturday’s post from Federation President Steven Shafir reads.

Rabbi at Edmonton’s Beth Israel, The Family Shul, Zolly Claman, told CityNews that they too are working on a vigil for Monday night at 6:30 p.m.

“We are grateful for a response from Calgary and Canadian law enforcement that has been quick and unambiguous. We also thank local, provincial, and federal government, and leadership in the many ethnic and religious communities throughout the city, for their words of support and solidarity,” reads a joint statement from Adam Silver, CEO, Calgary Jewish Federation and Jared Shore, Chair, Community Relations Committee, Calgary Jewish Federation.

“Though thousands of miles away, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters at The Tree of Life Congregation, in both sadness and resolve. Our community will remain strong in the face of such hateful acts.”

While there’s no set time for a vigil just yet, Siler did say they are working on finalizing details and will hopefully be able to host mourners in the coming days.

Members of Vancouver’s Jewish community are offering their condolences to those affected by the fatal mass shooting in Pittsburgh.

Vancouver Rabbi Dan Moskovitz said he was immediately concerned about his close friend, who is a rabbi in Pittsburgh at the synagogue next door to the congregation that was attacked. And here, additional security measures were put in place at Temple Sholom in Vancouver.

“As soon as we heard about it, we heightened our security,” he told CityNews‘ radio sister, NEWS 1130. “We doubled our security so we had more of a physical presence on site.”

He said there was an immediate sense of fear felt by members of his congregation, adding the rise in antisemitic acts in Canada is deeply troubling.

“What happened at the Mosque in Quebec, immediately, I thought of that. Once again, people in peaceful prayer being murdered,” he said. “I stand on our pulpit every weekend and I look out and I always think, what would happen if someone were to come in? That’s the world we live in.”

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Jewish community stands defiant as it prepares for Sunday vigil

He said the attack could be the result of the rise in political rhetoric and antisemitism in the United States.

“When you give voice to the fringes of society and give them the large platform of social media so they can feed off of each other, then on the very fringes of that, people get radicalized, and this can be the result,” he says.

Moskovitz says in these times, it’s important to celebrate differences, not let them divide us. Members of the community are planning a vigil for victims of the shooting, which will be held on Sunday evening.

-with files from the Canadian Press