Barrie’s Am Shalom congregation was in the middle of its own services on Saturday when word spread of a deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“We were in services ourselves when somebody in the congregation got notification on their phone,” David Shron, president of the Am Shalom congregation, tells BarrieToday. “We interrupted services because it was right before a prayer for healing that takes place at about the midway point of our service, and I thought it was an appropriate time to make the announcement.
“It certainly changed the atmosphere and mood of our services,” he added. “It’s a small community, so we all know people who live in the area in Pittsburgh and in Pennsylvania, so naturally all the thoughts go through your head about who was there and why it would happen in such a nice community.”
Eleven people, ranging from 54 to 97 years old, were killed when a gunman opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue, including a husband and wife as well as two brothers. Of the six survivors, four remained in hospital Sunday night, and two — including a 40-year-old officer — were in critical condition.
It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
A 46-year-old man has been charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. He was also charged in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included counts of obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death — a federal hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder.
The Am Shalom congregation will hold a vigil on Tuesday night at Barrie City Hall. The community vigil is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. at city hall, which is located at 70 Collier St., in downtown Barrie.
Candles will be lit for the 11 people who died and Shron said he hopes it will be “an uplifting event for everybody and showing some solidarity, that we’re all in it together and showing the support of the community for those who are in Pittsburgh.”
There will also be a book of condolences in the Rotunda at City Hall for the rest of the week, at which point it will be sent to Pittsburgh.
While planning is still underway, Shron said Am Shalom’s religious leader, Audrey Kaufman, will lead Tuesday's vigil.
“We’re also inviting other minority communities and other religions to say a few words if they want to,” he added.
There has been an outpouring of support locally.
“We’ve been contacted by leaders of Muslim congregations, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, they’ve all been in contact with words of condolence,” Shron said. “It’s very supportive to us to know that so many people out there support us. Hopefully we can have a few of them say a few words, as well.”
Shron said Saturday’s attack also raises questions about whether the Am Shalom congregation, which includes around 200 people, is safe in its own synagogue, located on Huronia Road in south-end Barrie.
“I want my doors to stay open all the time,” he said. “We’re pretty resolved to the idea that we are safe here, but that we also need the house of worship to be open to show that we’re not going to hide and we’re not going to be afraid.
“This is an amazing community in Simcoe County and we’ve always felt welcomed and we’ve always felt supported by everybody here,” Shron added. “We don’t want to make any changes that would close us off from the rest of the community.”