One hundred and fifty Saultites from various religious and ethnic backgrounds gathered together in solidarity and support of the Jewish Community last night at the Beth Jacob Synagogue, where the eleven murdered victims of the Pittsburg shooting were mourned. Mayor Christian Provenzano and MP Terry Sheehan and family, along with religious leaders from the Christian and Islamic community, joined our local Jewish community in a deeply moving service to mourn the dead and advocate for a better, more inclusive future.
In setting the tone for the event, Jeff Arbus, the congregation’s past president, said, “Today is not about blame, it is not about political rivalries, tonight is about remembering and honouring those who were unwillingly sacrificed.” He continued, “We are here to take a stand, however big or small… Nobody should have to face violence or murder for the simple fact of who they are.”
In addition to spending some time honouring those who lost their lives tragically and praying for those wounded, Arbus spoke to some of the history of the Jewish community in Sault Ste. Marie. Jews have been in the Sault since the 1880s, the Beth Jacob Synagogue has been present serving both Sault Ontario and Sault Michigan for the last 72 years.
“This is the first time in our living memory that we have felt compelled to have a guard at the front door. Even a place of worship or sanctuary is not secure or safe on its own,” Arbus said to the crowd. He highlighted the stark reality that all forms of racism have been on the rise in the last five years – and particularly the last two – with anti-Jewish acts leading in the number of incidents taking place across North America and Europe primarily.
Mayor Provenzano’s moving speech offered condolences on behalf of the city.
“Our local Jewish community may not be large in number, but its impact on Sault Ste. Marie has been very significant and very positive. From the establishment of this synagogue in 1945, to the local service clubs and institutions supported by volunteers who were and are members of this community and to the several successful and long-term businesses opened by Jewish business people, your contribution is exceptional… Tonight is simply another example of your outstanding leadership,” Provenzano expressed.
“For every anti-Semite, racist, bigot, or xenophobe, there are hundreds and hundreds more of us who are tolerant, compassionate and welcoming. Our voices are louder, our voices are stronger, and our collective might is much greater than anything the forces of hatred could ever hope to marshall,” Provenzano said in his speech.
Dr. Reda Bedair, professor of linguistics and Islamic Studies at Cairo-based Al Azhar University, joined the memorial as a show of support from the Islamic community. “We are here to stand in unity against hatred, against violence,” he said, “Whenever some of our mosques were attacked by those merciless people, we had the Jewish community and the Christian community come together and form a shield around the mosque. We have to remember that we are brothers and sisters of humanity.
Ginny Cymbalist, current president of the congregation, spoke to the tenants of Judaism and the power of numbers, “No one mourns alone. And you are testament to that.”
“It gives me hope that the first vigil was organized by students form a local high school. Maybe the young people of the world can find a way through this darkness,” said Cymbalist.
The ceremony concluded with Cymbalist lighting a memorial candle to honour the victims and of course, a call to action – to be an advocate and continue to do the work that will contribute to a world of greater tolerance and respect.
Arbus wanted to extend his sincerest thanks to those who showed up but could not get in as it was a full house. The Jewish community appreciates the support.