When Abe Ajrami sang "I'll Stand By You" with other Muslims, Jews and Christians in front of the Temple B'Nai Israel synagogue, he felt the strong connection among different religious communities in the Crossroads.

Ajrami, a board member of the Victoria Islamic Center, was one of many Victoria residents filmed in a national commercial and documentary earlier this week. The filming highlighted the story of how the local religious communities came together to help the mosque members after an arsonist burned down the Islamic center in January.

"It's wonderful that it's being told in a positive way. The focus wasn't on the fire; it wasn't on the hate; it wasn't on the arsonist," he said. "The focus was on the community coming together. It conveyed a positive image about the city of Victoria."

A production crew from New York filmed the commercial Monday and Tuesday for Mass Mutual, a financial services company, which will air on CNN and other national outlets around New Year's Day, said Gary Branfman, a board member of the Temple B'Nai Israel synagogue.

Representatives of the production crew declined to comment.

Another production crew working on a project connected to the commercial filmed a documentary that will tell six positive stories of 2017 across the U.S., Branfman said.

After the mosque burned down, Branfman visited Shahid Hashmi, who is president of the Victoria Islamic Center. Branfman gave him the key to the synagogue so mosque members could use the temple to worship.

Elle Tracy Oliver, of Victoria, said she was there when Branfman took the key to Hashmi.

"Having lived in Europe, San Antonio, Argentina - I was blown away by the easy manner the religious community navigates with each other," she said.

Oliver also took part in the filming.

"There was a real community feeling among all of us to get the message out," she said. "We will stand by each other."

An entourage of more than two dozen producers, directors, cinematographers, makeup artists, a music director and their support staff armed with high-tech equipment converted the synagogue into a modern day film production command center, Branfman said.

"In Victoria, Texas, in the business, education, medical communities, the Jews, Muslims, Hindus and majority of Christians are colorblind to each other's religions," he said. "We all live and work together. That was emphasized in the documentary of how people are supposed to be."

When Victoria has been in the national news in the past, it was usually because of negative incidents such as Hurricane Harvey and when undocumented immigrants died locked in a trailer, Ajrami said, but this time it was the opposite.

"For Victoria to hit the national stage in a positive story is something to be proud of," he said. "It's not trying to promote victimization. It was the positive reaction to the fire, which was the community coming together."

Branfman said supporting the Muslim community after the mosque fire was the right thing to do and isn't something that should be unique.

"The fact that people think it is so wonderful - personally, I don't feel like it was something worthy of such praise," he said. "The bar has been set low in our society. Hopefully events like this will help raise the bar when people realize how easy it is to do the right thing."

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Reporter

Kathryn Cargo covers business and agriculture in the Crossroads. She enjoys reporting on industry trends and getting her shoes dirty out in the field.

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