By Ron Stang
Special to the Jewish News
Hundreds gathered at Temple Beth El in Windsor the evening of Oct. 30 for a multifaith service to mourn the 11 victims of the mass shooting last weekend at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Windsor has a rich tradition of multifaith services, but this may have been the first in memory to bring religious leaders and congregants together to commiserate such a tragedy.
Clergy from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and indigenous faiths talked, prayed and sang in the hour-and-a-half service, which opened by the lighting of yizkor candles in memory of the 11 Pittsburgh dead.
The gathering underlined the goodwill that has long characterized the Windsor faith communities.
“I think that we know that Windsor is a cohesive, warm and welcoming, and caring community,” Jay Katz, executive director of the Windsor Jewish Community Centre, said before the service began. “I think that we know here that the vast majority of us do not indulge in hate, do not believe in it, that we support one another, that we all collectively have the same response to this and we, as Windsorites, understand that well because we have a particularly tight, close and sincere community.”
Bruce Elman, religious vice president of Congregation Shaar HaShomayim and the Windsor city hall’s integrity commissioner, called on the local community to respond to the atrocity by reaffirming Judaism and its larger community ties, noting the gathering was a first step. “We can stand together as a community united against hate,” he said.
Elman said Jews can further “demonstrate pride” in their identity “by wearing a kippah, by putting a mezuzah on our doors, by lighting the Shabbat candles, by placing our Chanukah lights in the windows of our homes … by inviting guests to our Passover seders.”
He said there is a lesson learned from this tragedy — the poison that can rise out of social media. “We now see the dangers of unchallenged hate speech,” he said. “As is often noted, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers of Auschwitz; it began in the pages of Der Stürmer and other anti-Semitic publications.”
The Pittsburgh terror “began in the vile social media platforms that cater to anti-Semitic and other forms of hate speech,” Elman said.
Congregation Beth El Rabbi Lynn Goldstein noted the irony of the killings as the victims “took their last breath in a building named for life.” She implored Jews, in wake of the tragedy, not to hide but “to act.” She said now, more than ever, “we have to reach out to each other with caring and compassion.”
Imam Mohamed of the Windsor Islamic Association said the “attack on you is an attack on all of us” and that “we all under the skin are the same.” And he said violence afflicts all groups, pointing to the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 that killed six and injured 19.
Windsor Police Chief Al Frederick told those assembled that synagogues and other religious institutions are there to support life “and most of all they should be safe places.” He reassured the community that it has the “unequivocal” support of law enforcement to keep those buildings safe.