MONTREAL — For leaders of a Quebec City mosque that was the site of a mass murder carried out by a lone gunman in 2017, the killings of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday hit close to home.
"It reminds us of the difficult moments we went through, and it brings back some of that worry," Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah said in an interview Monday.
The centre's board released a statement expressing "heartfelt condolences" to Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers were killed at a Sabbath service.
"The madness of men once again struck our Jewish neighbours of Pittsburgh ... who were only praying in a sacred and untouchable place," the board wrote in the statement.
"This act is of enormous gravity and cannot leave us indifferent," it continued. "Today we understand very well the pain that Jewish families feel, and we are wholeheartedly with them."
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians are "horrified" by the attack in Pittsburgh.
"Our hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across Canada," he told the House of Commons. "May the families of those murdered be comforted and may the injured recover quickly and fully. We're working with U.S. authorities and ready to assist if required. Mr. Speaker, we will always stand united against hatred, intolerance, anti-Semitism and violence."
The January 2017 attack at the Quebec City mosque killed six worshippers and injured 19 others.
In the months since the attack, Benabdallah said, a new reality has set in at the mosque. Open doors have given way to concrete barriers near the front door, magnetized locks and security cameras.
"What more can we do? It's terrible," Benabdallah said. "Are we going to keep on living like this, barricaded?"
But he acknowledged such measures are necessary "until such time as things calm down and return to normal."
Benabdallah said it's up to citizens to denounce such violence and the weapons used to perpetrate it.
Just last Thursday, Benabdallah was part of a coalition advocating for a ban on handguns and assault rifles during a meeting with federal lawmakers in Montreal.
Several Muslim organizations have raised funds for victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and their families. Story continues after video.
Benabdallah said he was overcome by sadness, shock and worry when he heard of Saturday's attack.
"It was very sad for me to know others have been the victim of such an attack, and so many have unjustly lost their lives," he said.
He immediately reached out to members of Quebec City's small Jewish community — a group that came to the aid of the local Muslim community when the mosque was attacked.
Major multi-faith vigils are planned for Monday night in Canada at Toronto's Mel Lastman Square and Montreal's Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue.
The events in the two cities with Canada's largest Jewish populations follow gatherings across Canada during the weekend to commemorate the Pittsburgh victims.
In Ottawa, more than 300 people packed into the Soloway Jewish Community Centre for a Sunday evening memorial service, lining the walls and taking every available chair — except 11, left vacant on the stage, each bearing the name of one of the victims.
It was very sad for me to know others have been the victim of such an attack, and so many have unjustly lost their lives.Boufeldja Benabdallah, Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec
Dena Libman, whose cousin Joyce Fienberg was among those killed, addressed the crowd of residents, religious leaders and politicians from all parties and levels of government.
She said that in the Jewish world, it feels like everyone is a member of the same family — it's just that some are closer than others. Fienberg grew up in Toronto.
More than 100 people attended a vigil at Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Halifax Sunday afternoon.
Senior Rabbi Raysh Weiss said she was "shocked and devastated" by Saturday's tragedy, but she said the outpouring of support following the attack helped bring some light to the dark weekend.
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"There's not much one can say. It's just horrible," she said. "But the antidote to moments like these is coming together in community and solidarity, and in love and peace, to say: This is not going to stop us from being who we are."
Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who is originally from Pittsburgh, said no Jewish community was left untouched by the shooting, which left 11 people dead and six injured, including four police officers.
He said Monday's Montreal event will be a chance for community members to draw hope and strength from each other.
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