It was a weekend of music and prayer, warmth and support, hugs and tears, as Ottawa congregations joined synagogues around the world in holding Solidarity Shabbat programs, November 2 and 3, on the Shabbat following the anti-Semitic massacre which killed 11 worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa led the effort to mark and promote Solidarity Shabbat in the city urging each congregation to establish its own plan to mark the occasion which Federation promoted via email to the community, and on the Federation website.
At Temple Israel, there was a moving Friday evening service led by Rabbi Robert Morais.
“There were many hands and some opportune timing that led to the success of Friday night’s service,” said Rabbi Morais. “We had several members of the clergy, there were many guests from the non-Jewish community and lots of people from the Temple Israel and broader Jewish community. We had about 250 people in attendance.”
The “opportune timing” the rabbi referred to was the presence of Cantor Dave Malecki, who began his Jewish studies at Temple Israel. He is now a cantor in Cleveland, Ohio but was visiting Ottawa and helped lead the singing.
Also participating in the service were Rabbi Steven Garten, Temple Israel’s rabbi emeritus; Sue Potechin and Mark Kamins of Temple’s lay cantor corps; and Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa who lit candles.
Also on Friday evening, Hillel Ottawa held a Solidarity Shabbat dinner attended by 175 University of Ottawa and Carleton University students at the Happy Goat coffee shop in Sandy Hill.
Hillel Ottawa Director Dovi Chein spoke about the tragedy in Pittsburgh and read the names of the 11 murdered victims before the students observed a moment of silence and then recited Kaddish.
“After Kaddish, students began to share their feelings, thoughts, and expressed themselves,” Chein said. “Many spoke, but the room was brought to tears when a Kurdish woman, who is also on our Israel on Campus executive, got up and shared her feelings about how Jews formed a protective barrier around a mosque in Montreal after the [Quebec City mosque] shooting last year.”
Chein said it was the “most powerful Shabbat experience I have ever been a part of, and I know our students feel the same way. We will all remember this evening as a source of much needed comfort, inspiration, and unity.”
On Shabbat morning, when congregants arrived for services at Machzikei Hadas, they were warmly greeted by three imams and one of their sons who were standing outside the shul “to make it loud and clear that we are in this together,” said Rabbi Idan Scher. “We had a very warm and uplifting Solidarity Shabbat.”
About 300 people, including many non-Jews, attended the service, including Alta Vista Ward City Councillor Jean Cloutier, Ottawa South MPP John Fraser and Ottawa South MP David McGuinty, who each spoke during the service. British Columbia MP Ed Fast also attended.
Rabbi Scher and Rabbi Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, each spoke about the Pittsburgh tragedy and Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs chanted “El Maleh Rachamim,” the prayer for the soul of the departed.
Over 500 people – including Reverend Anthony Bailey of Parkdale United Church, Father Daryold Winkler of St Basil’s Catholic Church, and Ahmed Ibrahim, president of the Ottawa Mosque, participated in Shabbat morning services at Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI).
“We came together to pray for healing for our community and to express gratitude to our first responders,” said Rabbi Eytan Kenter. “Perhaps the most inspiring moment was when all of those religious leaders joined me on the bimah for the Mourner’s Kaddish and we all held each other in support. It was an amazing moment.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was scheduled to speak at KBI but took ill and was forced to leave. However, he gave his remarks of solidarity to Jewish Federation of Ottawa President and CEO Andrea Freedman, who read them to the congregation.
Rabbi Reverend Anthony Bailey of Parkdale United Church, Father Daryold Winkler of St Basil’s Catholic Church, and Ahmed Ibrahim, of Knox United Church.”
Rabbi Howard Finkelstein said approximately 200 people participated in the Solidarity Shabbat morning service at Congregation Beit Tikvah, including Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod and Reverend Andrew Jensen of Knox United Church.”
During the service, Rabbi Finkelstein spoke about the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and about “the strong message of solidarity” he has received from many members of the non-Jewish community, from ordinary citizens of all faiths and from the Ottawa Presbytery.
“Psalms and prayers were recited by the congregation. I also emphasized the strong communal support of our own Jewish community here in Ottawa and elsewhere,” said Rabbi Finkelstein.
More than 100 people participated in the Shabbat morning service at Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad, said Rabbi Menachem Blum.
“Among the participants were our non-Jewish neighbours who came out to stand side by side with us during these difficult times. Inspirational words were shared during the Kiddush. It is really heartwarming to see the outpouring of support and love that our neighbours expressed,” said Rabbi Blum.
Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn of Chabad of Centrepointe said the Shabbat morning service drew “a large crowd, nearly double our regular attendance.”
Rabbi Mendelsohn noted the participation of Ottawa West-Nepean MP Anita Vandenbeld, Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts, and College Ward City Councillor Rick Chiarelli who “all spoke very movingly.”
“Or Haneshamah was blessed with a robust number of guests, including several clergy and Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden,” said Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton.
“Our host community, the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, where we hold our services, came out in such force that … we relocated from the social hall into the main sanctuary – where we usually only meet for bnei mitzvah and High Holy Day services – to accommodate all of our guests.”
Or Haneshamah member Tomas Grana offered “a poignant and heartfelt reflection that moved many to tears,” Rabbi Bolton said. As well, Mark Dermer and Sarah Waisvisz participated as service leaders, and Howard Kaplan accompanied several special musical selections on guitar.
“This event has shaken us,” said Sylvia Greenspoon of the lay-led Adath Shalom, which held a Solidarity Shabbat morning service. “Two of our members have ties to Pittsburgh. One of us held a baby-naming at Tree of Life synagogue over 40 years ago. The other has family who pray in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill every Shabbat.”
“It could have happened anywhere,” said Greenspoon, “and it is difficult to comprehend this level of hatred and anti-Semitism. We have been very fortunate to live and grow in Ottawa where there have been relatively few hate crimes.”