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‘We share that pain’: Muslims form rings of peace at GTA synagogues in wake of U.S. shooting

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In the wake of a deadly attack on a U.S. synagogue last week, people of faith from across the Greater Toronto Area gathered at Jewish places of worship throughout the city Saturday in an act of defiant solidarity. 

More than 200 attendees from various religious backgrounds formed « rings of peace » around 10 synagogues throughout the region on the Sabbath, a weekly day of observance in the Jewish faith.

The events were organized by several Muslim community groups and included prayers, hymns, statements of support and an opportunity to meet neighbours. 

« It is our faith that keeps us together. When one person is hurt in our community, through our moral and religious obligation, we are supposed to help, » said Osman Khan, spokesperson for the Imdadul Islamic Centre, one of the groups behind the show of solidarity. 

Last Saturday, a gunman opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jewish people, many of them elderly.

Six people were also injured in the attack, including four police officers.

The accused shooter, Robert Bowers, allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks during the attack, according to police. 

It was just the latest of a series of a high-profile shootings at places of worship on both sides of the border. 

Joanna Sadowski said she was a ‘little bit overwhelmed’ by the show of solidarity at seven GTA synagogues Saturday morning. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Khan said it only made sense for his community to express its condolences and support for Toronto’s Jewry. In February 2017, some 300 Jewish people from across the GTA, along with many from other faiths, formed rings of peace around local mosques in the wake of a deadly attack inside a Quebec City mosque. 

« It gave consolation to us in that difficult time, and now are doing the same, » Khan said. 

« Not because we feel we have to reciprocate, but because we feel a need to be with our brothers and sisters to ease the pain that they feel, because we share that pain. »

Joanna Sadowski, a member of the Holy Blossom Temple on Bathurst Street in York, said the public display of compassion was deeply emotional for her.

« It was very moving and very, very beautiful. I think I felt a little bit overwhelmed by the support of all the people who came out to show their solidarity, » she said. 

Muslim community leaders recite an opening prayer and a welcome to all those who showed up at Holy Blossom Temple. The assembled group spoke about the kinds of violence that various religious groups face. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

« I think the message is that people want to feel safe in prayer and in community, no matter your religion, no matter your background. That’s a value that we share as Canadians, as Torontonians — that we care and respect each other’s differences. »

Phyllis Denaburg, also a congregate at Holy Blossom, took part in the circles of peace around GTA mosques last year. She said that beyond offering support, the events help connect people who might otherwise not have a chance to meet. 

« It’s definitely a message of solidarity and that we aren’t alone. It’s a shame that these things still continue to happen, because it’s not something new. But it does warm our hearts, » she said. 

Holy Blossom Temple’s rabbi, Yael Splansky, has said that Toronto native Joyce Fienberg, who was killed in the Pittsburgh shooting, was a member of Holy Blossom Temple.

Fienberg spent most of her career as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, retiring in 2008 from her job studying learning in the classroom and in museums. Before that she was a member of the Holy Blossom Temple community, which is one of Toronto’s oldest Jewish congregations.

Splansky said Fienberg was a « very special person » who was married at the temple and whose confirmation photo is on its wall of honour.

« I know there’s a whole generation of Holy Blossom members who grew up here with her, who went to school with her and celebrated her wedding day here at Holy Blossom, » said Splansky, who said she didn’t know Fienberg personally.

With files from The Canadian Press

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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