Avi Benlolo’s Speech at Toronto Mosque This Afternoon

March 22, 2019


The following remarks were given by Avi Benlolo at Friday prayers at a Toronto mosque.

Salam, Shalom:

Thank you for your invitation, your warmth and your hospitality. I come here in peace and friendship as the voice of an organization that understands pain and suffering – the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.  

We, the Jewish community, stand together with you at this time of pain and sorrow. We are gathered here and across 15 mosques today to embrace your community and to tell you that you are not alone. We understand your anguish.

Fifty Muslim worshippers were murdered in New Zealand by a cold-blooded murderer. He could have just the same attacked a synagogue. His hateful ideology was no different than the attacker of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past October where 11 Jewish worshippers were murdered. And before that, in 2017, the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec was also attacked, killing six worshippers and wounding 19.

Personally, I saw the devastation hate can bring in the aftermath of the Toronto van attack in April 2018 when 10 people were murdered just outside my office. I will never forget the screams that I heard from my office window and the silence on the street for many days after the attack.

There is sadness and grief in the loss we feel.

We ask ourselves, what is happening to us? What is happening to humanity? Where is the sanctity and preservation of life?  

As an organization that is built in memory of six million Jewish people who were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, we understand hate and intolerance. We have learned that you must take words seriously – hate incidents all start with words.

Today, hatred against our communities in Canada – the Muslim community and the Jewish community – is at an all-time high. We are both among the most targeted groups; therefore, we must both come together in friendship and solidarity to promote tolerance, justice and human rights. After all, our faiths, Judaism and Islam, are part of the Abrahamic tradition. We are Sisters and Brothers.

In fact, just today, my organization released a statement condemning a report that a Muslim family found a swastika etched on the door of their home in London, Ontario. This is an outrageous act of hatred.

After the attack in New Zealand, there is anger and rage. Perhaps we can channel it to the memory of the victims of this horrific crime. We can reach out and embrace one another as an act of defiance for those who want to see us divided and civilization destroyed.

For us, after the Pittsburgh attack, there was an awakened sense of vulnerability. The distant terror we often read about, and in some cases escaped, can come crashing through our door at any moment – even now as I stand here with you.

For months after that attack – and still to today – we were afraid. We secured our schools and our synagogues and we took precautions at our community institutions. This is natural and understandable.

In those days, the expression of sympathy from your community toward our community warmed our hearts and strengthened our resolve. In fact, a few weeks after the attack, a number of Muslim community leaders came to my organization to demonstrate their solidarity.

In Canada, we are offered the privilege of working together to resolve our differences, to end hatred against your community and mine. We can show the world that we are standing together, in defiance of terrorism, and in friendship. When your community is impacted by hate, we are all impacted.

Our organization is named after a man by the name of Simon Wiesenthal. Although he lost some 85 members of his family in the Holocaust, he spent his entire life building bridges of friendship with the understanding that this is the only way humanity can avert another catastrophe.

In Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Hillel asked: "If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

And so, today, the Jewish community of Canada stands with you in solidarity in memory of the victims of the New Zealand attack. We share in your pain and extend our hand in sorrow.

Thank you.

Shalom, Salam.

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