Ring of Peace

March 29, 2019
November 4, 2018 was a Shabbat I cannot forget.  As I approached my shul that rainy morning, I was greeted by a number of Muslim families: adults, teenagers and children, holding signs of peace and solidarity and welcoming me into my own shul. In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, multi-faith communities throughout the GTA had arranged for Rings of Peace around our synagogues.
I was sceptical that this could be helpful or meaningful in any way. However, as I approached the main doors of my place of worship, I was overcome with emotion. Perhaps it was sadness and fear rooted in the events of the past weekend, but it was also love and hope gained from the authentic show of support and deep empathy that greeted me as I walked into my shul.
Early last week, our students were invited by City Shul to join them in forming a Ring of Peace around the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre, located at Bloor and Dufferin.   Participating in this peaceful response to the atrocities of March 14th was both a small gesture of solidarity, yet also a moment in time weighted with the energy to turn tides. Throughout the week, our Grade 5 and 6 Core teachers prepared our oldest students by talking to them about the world events and giving them a context for what we were going to do.  Our students made signs of love and support and prepared to engage in authentic social action alongside other members of the Downtown Jewish community.
Upon arriving at the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre, I was instantly struck by the number of people who had joined us, the outpouring of love and strength from multiple faith groups and the safety and security that was provided to us by the Toronto Police Force.  Our students quickly joined the assembled crowd and presented themselves with appropriate emotion and decorum. As we waited for prayer time to begin, there was engagement with other members of the gathered community, many of whom expressed how uplifting it was to see school children committed to this action.   Most impactful for me, however, was hearing our students sing Oseh Shalom, leading all gathered in a song of peace. Again, I was overcome with emotion and a deep sense of hope in our students and their future.
Our time spent at the Ring of Peace was less than an hour.  As we left, I encouraged our students to remember this moment as one where they offered hope to those in spiritual need.  I said a prayer, hoping that this experience and our actions would never again need to be repeated.
Our school is deeply rooted in social action and community involvement.  Last week, our Grade 5 and 6 students lived that in an authentic way. Let us hope that our actions now will merit a peaceful future – one where people will find love and respect for each other and their faiths. May this Ring of Peace be a unique occurrence and never be needed again.

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Paul Penna Downtown
Jewish Day School
750 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2J2
(Located in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre)


(416) 928-3537