Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsky normally presides over a service of 10 to 20 people at the Agudas Israel Synagogue in Saskatoon.
He said he was overwhelmed to see hundreds pack into the Jewish Community Centre on Tuesday night, as people of all faiths gathered for a show of solidarity in the wake of an attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead.
“We feel protected when we see so many people and so much love,” he told 650 CKOM.
The synagogue held a special service Tuesday night to honour the victims of the Pittsburgh attack, and to stand up against anti-Semitic and racist hatred in North America.
Roses and flowers received as gifts and messages of well-wishes were on display throughout the evening.
Jodorkovsky delivered a traditional Shabbat service in Hebrew, leading the crowd in songs and prayer, before standing shoulder-to-shoulder with faith leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities for a final invocation.
“Together we will always be stronger than those willing to cause us harm,” the Rabbi said.
Several people who took the podium spoke with concern to the apparent rise in anti-Semitic and racist behaviour around the world.
Heather Fenyes, a member of the Centre for Israeli and Jewish Affairs, noted damage done to the synagogue overnight Monday as an example.
She said people need to speak out and criticize racist comments when they are heard.
“Make no mistake … the crimes and targets placed on the Jewish community are a warning to every other minority and vulnerable group,” she said.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Chief Commissioner David Arnot told the gathering hate speech is a major factor in contributing to violent actions.
“Words matter,” he said.
“Words have the power to shame, blame and maim. Words also have the power to create understanding, empathy, equity and respect.”
Arnot made a call to action during his speech to the crowd, saying it was time for Canada to restore the penalties for hate speech in the country’s criminal code.
He blamed the “unregulated internet” for stoking much of the hateful language spreading in today’s world.
“Without change we can predict there will be more bloodshed and carnage,” he said.
The vigil also featured a prominent police presence, with three police officers stationed outside the synagogue and more sitting in the service including Chief Troy Cooper.
The top cop said it was important to show support for the Jewish community and help everyone feel safe.
“Most people realize they are safe here in Saskatoon, but we wanted to provide that perception of safety as well,” he said.
Many of the people who attended the gathering wanted to show solidarity with the Jewish community, despite being of a different faith.
Keith Bigelow, who identified himself as a Christian, said there was a Biblical duty to support Jewish people.
“An attack against the Jews is an attack against all the Christians in the world,” he said.
Several members of Saskatoon’s Ahmaddiyah Muslim community were also in attendance.
“We’re here for solidarity with the Jewish against terrorism,” said Nasser Mahmoud.
“Terrorism is not allowed in any religion … Our slogan is love for all, hatred for none.”