Toronto

Toronto gathers in solidarity for Pittsburgh synagogue victims

Large crowds of mourners gathered at Mel Lastman Square Monday night for a community vigil in honour of the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.

Large crowds gathered to attend vigil at Mel Lastman Square Monday night

Organizers said they anticipated thousands at Monday night's vigil at Mel Lastman Square. The event is being held in honour of the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Large crowds of mourners gathered at Mel Lastman Square Monday night for a community vigil in honour of the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.

The organizers, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said the vigil that started at 7 p.m. will bring the community together in a show of solidarity as it tries to grapple with the "unspeakable act of anti-Semitism."

Members of the Jewish community held candles as they sang traditional songs Lo Yisa Goy and Kol Haolam Kulo, and later stood for a moment of silence.

The even was particularly poignant for Torontonians as a woman who was born in this city, Joyce Fienberg, was among the 11 dead in Pittsburgh Saturday when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Several rabbis spoke at the event and Judy Winberg, the cousin of Fienberg, led the crowd with a prayer that
began with "grant us peace, your most precious gift." She was among 20 of Fienberg's relatives at the event. They will fly out Tuesday to Fienberg's funeral.

Judy Winberg, the cousin of Joyce Fienberg, also read a prayer at Monday's vigil. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Winberg told the media after the vigil that the family is heartbroken. 

"She always put others first. My cousin Joyce was the kind of person who always asked how everybody else was and rarely talked about herself," Winberg said. "She would have been blown away — she would have been embarrassed by this kind of outpouring."

Federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair attended the vigil on behalf of the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and said the prime minister is offering his condolences to the community and Fienberg's family.

Monday's vigil at Mel Lastman Square is one of many that has been held across the country since the attack in Pittsburgh on Saturday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"While we gather united in grief, let us also stand united in strength and resolve. The scourge of hatred and violence could never be tolerated in any part of our society," Blair said.

"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 and tragically stood alone far too often in the face of violence born in hatred."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also expressed his condolences to the Jewish community.

"Our government of Ontario and the people of Ontario are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community, our friends, and our neighbours," he said. "I can tell you, my friends, we will always, always stand with you, and we will never, ever waver."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed his condolences to the Jewish community at Monday's vigil. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong represented the city at the vigil as Mayor John Tory and his wife are out of town. Minnan Wong said the message at Mel Lastman Square was clear and united.

"To the people of Pittsburgh, we stand with you as you grieve and as you come together as a community to move forward. This loss of life and suffering is senseless — it is terrifying — but I know it will not stop how we all live together. It will not stop how we welcome people of all faiths in our cities, " he said.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, was also said to be in attendance. 

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong spoke at the vigil and said the message at Mel Lastman square was 'clear and united.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Steve Shulman of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto told CBC Toronto ahead of the event that the initial of reaction of great shock and sadness is still hasn't worn off. 

"This wasn't just an attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was felt as an attack on the entire Jewish people and in fact that was the intent of this violent anti-Semite who carried out the act," Shulman said.

The vigil at Mel Lastman Square is intended to bring the community together in a show of solidarity as it tries to grapple with Saturday's 'unspeakable act of anti-Semitism.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"It was brought home how close this was when yesterday we all learned that a member of our community, who grew up in this community, was one of the victims, and quite a number of her family members are here tonight."

On Sunday, Rabbi Yael Splansky, from the Holy Blossom Temple in Forest Hill, posted a Facebook tribute to Fienberg, saying she grew up at the temple.

Splansky also spoke about Fienberg at the vigil. 

"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 said. 

"She knew who she was, and she knew to whom she belonged, and now the whole world knows, too."

The vigil at Mel Lastman Square is part of a national display of sympathy and solidarity after Saturday's murderous attack.

Mourners at Monday's vigil heard from several rabbis, including Holy Blossom Temple's Yael Splansky, who spoke about Toronto-born victim Joyce Fienberg. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Organizers anticipated thousands at the event, and Nathan Shuster, who said he came to the vigil to stand with Pittsburgh, said it was wonderful to see the number of people.

"It shows that the community shows solidarity for their fellow citizens," he said. "That's a very satisfying feeling to be amongst people who are with you."

Another major multi-faith vigil took place Monday night in Montreal.

Earlier on Monday, leaders of the mosque in Quebec City that was the site of a 2017 mass murder carried out by a lone gunman sent condolences to Pittsburgh's synagogue.

Monday's vigils follow similar gatherings Sunday in Halifax, Vancouver and Ottawa. More events are planned Tuesday in Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ont.

Monday's vigil at Mel Lastman Square is part of a national display of sympathy and solidarity after Saturday's murderous attack. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

With files from Natalie Nanowski, Adrian Cheung and The Canadian Press

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