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In Judaism, no one mourns alone

'We are not going to hide, as scary as all this is'
Beth Jacob Synagogue
Beth Jacob Synagogue, 147 Bruce St. Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

For the first time in the history of Sault Jewry, it was felt necessary last night to have security personnel present at a synagogue service.

Jews have been here in Sault Ste. Marie for 135 years.

Congregation Beth Jacob, the first and only synagogue in the twin Saults, opened its doors 72 years ago.

"This is the first time in memory that we in the Sault Jewish community have felt compelled to have police and other forms of security for a service of worship," Jeff Arbus, the congregation's past president, told a vigil for 11 victims of Saturday's mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"Sadly, even a place of worship and sanctuary is not secure or safe on its own," Arbus said.

"We all need to think about that, regardless of our religious affiliation, regardless of skin colour, regardless of gender identity, regardless of status as an immigrant, First Nations or indigenous or Inuit, regardless of being Jewish."

Arbus pointed out that anti-Semitism is increasing in both North America and Europe.

"All forms of racism are on the rise, but in terms of numbers of incidents, anti-Jewish acts far exceed those directed at any other group."

"That is not a comparison, it is not a way of saying 'poor us.' It is a reflection of the concern with the dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the past five years and especially in the past two years, increasing at rates as high as 30 per cent in one year," Arbus said.

"This is why we felt it important to hold the event here, at the synagogue. We are not going away, we are not running away, we are not going to hide, as scary as all this is. And yes, we are scared."

Representatives of other faith groups and community leaders came to express solidarity with their Jewish counterparts.

Dr. Reda Bedair, professor of linguistics and Islamic Studies at Cairo-based Al Azhar University, condemned the taking of human life, quoting Al-Ma'ida 5:32 of the Quran: "Whoever takes a life – unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land – it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity."

The same principle is found in Judaism's Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin.

Mayor Christian Provenzano assured the packed synagogue that the historic contributions of the Jewish community to Sault Ste. Marie have been "significant and positive."

Businesses founded by local Jews have included Traders Metal, Friedman's Department Store, Davis Clothing, Bert's Auto Supply, Algoma Bakery, Algoma Hotel, Allen's Ladies Wear, Bernard Shoes, Bregman's Furniture, Con-Ell Furs, Fishman's Men's Wear, Hub Clothing, Richardson's Ladies Wear, Kleiman's Sports Store, Haft's Furniture and Daiter's Cleaners.

Congregation Beth Jacob members have also volunteered extensively through service clubs, local boards and fundraising initiatives.

"Your contributions are exceptional," Provenzano said.

"The good-hearted people of the world must stand against hatred....Attempts to sow fear and division will not succeed," the mayor said.

"In Judaism, no one mourns alone," said Ginny Cymbalist, current president of Beth Jacob.

"Our whole concept of dealing with death is the sharing of sorrow. During the first seven days after a loved one's death, the community serves to make the bereaved comfortable. Every need is taken care of and each day the community gathers in the home of the bereaved to say prayers."

For an entire year, the bereaved say the Mourner's Kaddish daily, surrounded by by friends, Cymbalist said.

"Each year, our lost loved ones are honoured at special services."

"It gives me hope that the first vigil was was organized by students from a local high school. Maybe the young people of the world can find a way through this darkness."

Cymbalist pointed out a menorah at the Sault synagogue that had stood for many years at B'nai Israel Synagogue in Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge).

It had been originally donated by the Coppel family and was returned to the Coppels when the Galt synagogue closed in 1985.

Two Coppel sisters, Elizabeth Coppel-Cooper and Byrna Coppel-Park, then donated the menorah to the Sault's Congregation Beth Jacob.

Cymbalist announced last night that Elizabeth Coppel-Cooper was in Pittsburgh with her husband Neil to attend the funeral of Neil's first cousin, Joyce Fienberg, who died Saturday in the Pittsburgh attack.

Byrna Coppel-Park was a founder of Sault Ste. Marie's Phoenix Rising Women’s Centre. She died in 2006.

The following old poem, with a 21st-Century twist, was read by Elizabeth Christie at Thursday night's vigil:

A message for activists... for all who want a better world.

First They Came is a poem written by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984).

It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

It is about the importance of taking responsibility.

Here is the most commonly used translation:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — And there was no one left to speak for me.

Here is an updated version:

Now they've come for the Jews
I will speak out
because I'm not a Jew.

And then they come for the Communists
I will speak out
because I'm not a Communist.

And when they come for the trade unionists
I will speak out
because I'm not a trade unionist.

And when they come for me
I will not be alone.