How a hate crime meant to tear a city apart ended up bringing two communities closer together than ever before.
Image via (cc) Flickr user omarsc
Sometimes it seems as if the world is full of nothing but sectarian violence and interfaith animosity. In Peterborough, Ontario, however, an act of hate intended to tear a city apart has instead brought it closer together.
The Masjid al-Salaam mosque serves a Muslim community of around 1,000. On November 14, that community suddenly found itself without a place to worship after a fire—believed to be deliberately set in what police are investigating as a “hate crime”—destroyed Peterborough’s only Muslim prayer space, causing a reported $80,000 in damages. It’s an attack that shocked the city, and drew immediate condemnation from Mayor Darryl Bennett, who called the arson “totally out of character” for his community, echoing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he was “deeply disturbed,” reports CBC.ca.
In response to the attack, Peterborough’s Jewish community has stepped up and offered their prayer space to the temporarily displaced mosque members as place where they can worship. Larry Gillman, president of the city’s Beth Israel Synagogue, told The Canadian Jewish News: “I immediately sent an email to our board with the idea of sharing our space with the Muslim community, realizing that they were not going to have a place to pray in the meantime.”
Since extending their invitation, Beth Israel has hosted a number of prayer sessions for the mosque’s members, as well as an interfaith potluck dinner. Children from the synagogue greeted their guests with a large, handmade banner reading “Welcome Friends,” hung across the wall of the makeshift prayer space.
Canadian media outlet CityNews reported from the scene:
On its website, Beth Israel describes itself as:
An egalitarian (modern-reformed) [congregation] motivated by a spectrum of community interests and spiritual aspirations, and pride ourselves on realizing not only meaningful Jewish experiences, but those of other denominations and cultures.
To that end, the synagogue also shares its space with the local Unitarian Fellowship.
Speaking with CBC.ca, Masjid al-Salaam president Kenzu Abdella described a sense of trepidation after receiving the synagogue's offer, but “within 24 hours, that changed. [Synagogue representatives] walked to the mosque and told us that whatever we need, they will support us.”
“Even though it came out of a tragedy,” he added, “we are working together.”
In addition to the temporary prayer space, a crowdfunding effort raised over $110,000 to cover the cost of the mosque’s reconstruction.
“We’re so grateful to everyone,” Abdella told The Canadian Jewish News. “It’s not just the financial aspect that really makes us very proud to be Canadian and proud to be a part of the Peterborough community, but the comments we’ve received in support … it’s been great for us.”