Amid a visible police presence, an overflow crowd packed Vancouver’s Jewish community gathered at the city’s Jewish Community Centre on Sunday to remember the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
Eleven people, many of them senior citizens and one of them a Holocaust survivor, were killed when a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs burst into the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday morning.
Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said Sunday’s event was meant to be cathartic for the city’s Jewish community.
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“This is a close community, so even though the distances are far, the connections are deep, and when a loss like this happens it’s felt by all,” Shanken said.
“Right now, our job in the Jewish community and at the Jewish Federation is to be there as a shoulder for our community to lean on in a time of incredible sadness.”
Many attendees told Global News they were hopeful that anti-Semitism was on the decline, but fearful that the opposite was true.
“In a way, things are getting worse. Things were much better when I was growing up,” one mourner told Global News.
“I’ve had very few experiences, sort of an anti-Semitic kind of thing. But here we go.”
“To think that someone goes to a place of worship and gets gunned down by an assault rifle and a guy carrying three Glocks as well is just ridiculous, this is the 21st century, it shouldn’t be happening,” said another.
A third said an apparent rising tide of hate around the world was giving him pause.
“There’s been recurrences throughout Europe, white supremacy, all kinds of movements which indicates to me that it hasn’t improved,” he said.
During the service, candles were lit for the 11 victims, whose names were read out loud. Attendees also chanted a traditional mourning prayer.
The event was open to the general public, and Shanken said he was heartened to see the outpouring of support from Canadians across the country of all faiths.
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“It means everything to us. We know that the vast majority of people both here in Canada and across North America and around the world have a deep love for one another and want to be here for each other and want to be building relationships,” Shanken said.
“Many of them have stepped up for us in such a beautiful way.”
Another vigil is planed for 4 p.m. on Tuesday at UBC,
-With files from Paul Johnson