Content warning: gun violence, anti-Semitism, racism.
On October 30, McGill students, faculty, members of the administration, and Montreal community members gathered at McGill’s Y-intersection to commemorate the lives lost in the tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. The vigil was organized by a coalition of Montreal’s Jewish groups, with a simultaneous event happening on Concordia’s campus.
Noah Lew, President of the Hillel Montreal Leadership Council, gave the gathering’s opening remarks. Addressing the crowd, he stated: “This memorial service is to remember what happened last Saturday, and to remember the lives that were lost, and to serve as a reminder of the importance of always standing up in the face of anti-Semitism and all hatreds.”
Various community members were called upon to light candles and offer kind words to honour of each of the eleven victims. In addition to representatives from the various Jewish groups who organized the vigil, the Dean of Students, Christopher Buddle; Vice Principal, Louis Arseneault; and Deputy Consul General of Israel in Montreal, Rotem Segev also participated in the candle-lighting.
Organizers of the vigil made sure to express that while this particular tragedy has deeply affected the Jewish community, countless other groups have suffered similar attacks and have experienced the irreparable losses that come with them. In his speech, Teddy Neuman, President of Hillel at McGill, asserted: “This violence has not remained isolated to the Jewish community. We are joined here with friends: Christians, Muslims, and more, who have gathered because, unfortunately, they understand… When a person is murdered for who they are, be it their race, religion, or ethnicity, it is not just a direct assault on them – it is a direct assault on all of us.”
In the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy, many continue to condemn the ever-growing list of global violent attacks as the manifestation of a larger problem. Perri Wiatrak, Vice President Events for Am McGill, echoed Neuman’s sentiments, discussing the issue of violence in the context of the United States, as well as her personal reaction to the shooting: “I kept thinking ‘Wow, this could have been me.’ And then I’m thinking about the prevalence of gun violence in the United States, and I was thinking ‘Well, this could have been anyone…’”
For many Jewish students, Saturday’s events also hit close to home. Lew commented on his personal reaction when he heard the devastating news: “My heart sank a bit. It was shocking, it was very easy to picture a situation where that could have been me or someone I know or a loved one, and I think that was one of the toughest things.” Neuman also reflected on how this tragedy has personally affected him and those he cares about, citing his brother who is fearful about returning to synagogue after hearing of last Saturday’s attack.
Ariana Kaye, President of JQueer, McGill’s Jewish LGBT student group, provided insight on how the tragedy has affected not just the Jewish community, but intersecting communities as well. Highlighting the loss of Jerry Rabinowitz, a valuable member of the Tree of Life synagogue and a doctor of family medicine who treated HIV patients, Kaye remarked: “It was also a big loss for the LGBT community and especially for his patients… and that was an interesting take from the LGBT perspective, to hear a man’s story who had AIDS and whose doctor was everything for him.”
Nearly twenty groups contributed to putting together and facilitating the vigil. Sarah Binney, a member of Ghetto Shul, expressed pride in the Jewish community’s ability to unite in organizing the event, stating: “Something that I think has been really amazing is the quickness; the speed with which all of the communities have mobilized to put together these events… There aren’t a lot of things that bring the entire McGill Jewish community from social groups, to political groups, to religious groups all together, and this was a really beautiful thing.”
Despite the devastation many are feeling in response to Saturday’s attack, organizers of the vigil also shared a message of hope, urging those in attendance to seek solace in one another and to be grateful to others who stand in solidarity against anti-Semitism. Binney praised those who have rushed to the Jewish community’s aid during this difficult time, adding: “One of the most amazing things has been the show of solidarity from other faith groups… specifically, the Muslim community from Montreal has been just amazingly supportive and has shown so much solidarity, and it is definitely one of the things that really inspires hope.”