Faith communities show solidarity in wake of graffiti attacks

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It was standing-room-only at a multi-faith solidarity rally in an Ottawa synagogue November 20, following a spate of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti attacks over six days. Targets included a Jewish prayer centre, a mosque, a church that has a black pastor and two synagogues.

The Congregation Machzikei Hadas in south Ottawa hosted the event two days after its front doors were spray-painted with swastikas and offensive graffiti spray-painted on walls outside the synagogue.

Rabbi Reuven Bulka, the spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, drew sustained applause and a standing ovation when he greeted the more than 600 people present with the words, “Welcome to the real Ottawa,” saying those gathered represented “a mosaic of our community.”

Because the rally was held on the Jewish Sabbath, cameras and other recording equipment were not allowed inside the synagogue.

Speakers included Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, who was applauded when he announced that a youth had been arrested that morning in connection with the attacks. The teen faces several charges, including uttering threats and mischief to religious buildings.

Anglicans were among several religious figures at the event and included Col. the Rt. Rev. Nigel Shaw, who is the first elected bishop of the Anglican Military Ordinariate, Dean Shane Parker of Christ Church Cathedral, the Ven. David Selzer, executive archdeacon of the diocese of Ottawa, and some diocesan priests.

Canon John Wilker-Blakley-ecumenical interfaith officer for Ottawa diocese and president of the Capital Region Interfaith Council (CRIC)-was also at the rally.

Canon John Wilker-Blakley, president of the Capital Region Interfaith Council, and ecumenical inter-faith officer for the diocese of Ottawa. Photo: Art Babych
Canon John Wilker-Blakley, president of the Capital Region Interfaith Council, and ecumenical inter-faith officer for the diocese of Ottawa. Photo: Art Babych

The graffiti attacks “are yet more events in a series of hateful things that have been reported especially since the election of Donald Trump as president-elect of the United States,” he wrote in a letter published in the Ottawa Citizen November 19.

“This behavior is abhorrent, but more abhorrent still is that it reveals how much racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc. is bubbling just below the surface of our society.”

On behalf of the CRIC, Wilker-Blakley expressed “outrage at this behavior and the attitudes which empower them.”

The Anglican Journal asked Wilker-Blakley what Anglicans could do to prevent similar attacks. “The most important thing is to continue to work at education and understanding, and to include within our Prayers of the People our prayers for the mosques and synagogues in the neighbourhood, and try to help people understand how important our common faith is,” he said. “There is much more that unites us than divides us in all kinds of areas.”

Wilker-Blakley termed the solidarity event “a wonderful gathering” and appreciated that major faith groups represented in the recent attacks were present in the same worship space and were “talking on the same microphone, speaking the language of unity.”

The premier, who was in Ottawa for the Ontario Liberal Party’s annual general meeting, was among a handful of speakers at the event. “We are Ontario,” Wynne told the gathering. “This is what we are…people committed to the inclusive society we strive for.” People cannot be complacent, she said. “We have to stand together.”

In his remarks, the mayor of Ottawa said the graffiti attacks are a reminder that hate and prejudice still exist in the city. “When one is targeted, we’re all targeted,” Watson said.

“The Muslim community stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters” in opposition to hate crimes, said Imam Samy Metwally. Walls of the Ottawa Muslim Association mosque were splattered with red paint overnight November 17.

The spate of attacks started November 15, when Rabbi Anna Maranta found swastika and anti-Semitic slur spray-painted on her home in the Glebe section of Ottawa, where she runs a small Jewish prayer centre.

The Rev. Gregor Sneddon, rector of nearby St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, along with his son William and Kirkland Adsett, music director at St. Matthew’s, were among several people who came to a candle-lit service on the steps of Marant’s home to pray and offer their support. “We at St. Matthew’s offered to paint the doors, but someone had already done it,” Sneddon told the Journal. “We brought a plate of baklava.”

The Rev. Rhonda Waters, rector of the Church of the Ascension, along with members of her family and United Church ministers, also came to offer support.

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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