Greater Victoria residents crossed religious lines to mourn the victims of a synagogue shooting in the United States last week while comforting each other and sending a message of strength.
Jews and non-Jews alike filled the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Victoria (JCCGV) on Shelbourne Street Tuesday during a vigil in memory of the 11 worshippers killed Saturday during a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
Authorities have since charged 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers with a long list of crimes connected to the shooting. Bowers had also made several anti-Semitic posts on social media before the shooting.
The shooting has scarred Jewish communities across the world, including Greater Victoria, where an estimated 100 to 150 people had to stand outside the JCCGV’s building on Shelbourne Street during the vigil, because of space constraints inside the building.
Coun. Colin Plant, who attended Tuesday’s vigil, was among those standing outside.
“The mood was sombre but supportive,” he said. “Most memorable for me was the naming of the victims and the gathered assembly repeating those names out loud,” he said later. “Several spoke about the despicable attack and that we cannot take our freedoms for granted.”
The event, organized by the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island, featured representatives from local synagogues, as well as Christian, Muslim and secular representatives.
Lynn Greenhough of the Kolot Mayim Reform Temple was one of six speakers during the evening, and said it was comforting to see so many people come together to comfort each other and send a message against anti-Semitism, which has made a resurgence in recent years.
While many observers have blamed the rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump for contributing to the climate that encouraged the shooting, Greenhough said the vigil tried to avoid day-to-day politics.
“This isn’t about Trump,” she said in pointing to the historical legacy of anti-Semitism.
“As Jews, we have survived many, many centuries of hatred. And every time you think you have some sanctuary, you’t dont,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean Jews will hide themselves, she said.
“We need to stand together,” she said, while also describing a sense of unease.
Greenhough described the shooting as “deeply frightening” because it signifies an “escalation” of violence that happened in a place of worship no less. “These are not just sacred places, they are also the safest of sacred places, and they have lost that,” she said.
Worse, Greenhough expects more attacks of this sort. “We do know that there will be a next time,” she said.
At the same time, she warns against a state of permanent fear.
“You can’t stay there,” she said. “You can’t live there.”