Jewish Community Responds to Deadly Mosque Attack

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A crowd, including members of Jewish Federation and JCRC staff, gathers for a “Service of Interreligious Solidarity” held by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. (Photo by Jason Holtzman)

By Janet Perez and Liz Spikol

International, national and local Jewish communities are condemning last week’s white supremacist attack on two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 people and wounded dozens.

The attacks took place in the city of Christchurch at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque during March 15 morning prayers. The “worst act of terrorism committed on our shores,” as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern characterized it, was allegedly carried out by a 28-year-old Australian national who’d penned an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The response from Jewish organizations came swiftly.

“This attack on a Muslim community at prayer is an attack on the sanctity of life and tears at the fabric of society,” said the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in a statement. “We stand together with the Muslim community to denounce and oppose violence, hatred and bigotry in all its forms.”

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia also released a statement, signed by board president, Rabbi Joshua Waxman.

“Coming so soon after the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the thought of peaceful worshippers being gunned down by hate-filled extremist has an extra tragic measure of resonance for Jews in Pennsylvania,” Waxman wrote. “Even as we prepare for Shabbat and its vital foretaste of olam ha-ba, we recognize the huge gap that exists between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be, and the critical role we can all play in bringing some measure of consolation and hope to olam ha-zeh.”

Waxman and about 25 other area rabbis attended afternoon prayers at Masjidullah in West Oak Lane on March 15. Following services, Waxman said, Imam Mikal Shabazz spoke about the Tree of Life massacre and thanked members of the Jewish community.

The same evening, at Congregation Mikveh Israel, after a moving concert of Sephardic Andalusian music, Rabbi Albert Gabbai offered his remarks on the massacre.

“We are very sad about what happened,” he said. “We as Jews know what it means to be persecuted and we stand in solidarity and in sadness … May God protect all of us.”

The next day, many area Jews attended an interfaith vigil in LOVE Park, where Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center and Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom joined other faith leaders onstage. Attendee Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, of Or Zarua, was also there to demonstrate solidarity.

“It’s really important for us to support all of our brothers and sisters of all faiths,” she told KYW Newsradio.

Several area rabbis and colleagues pose with Imam Mikal Shabazz (center) of Masjidullah following services.(Courtesy of The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia)

That night, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia CEO Naomi Adler attended a vigil in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, while Main Line Reform Temple Senior Rabbi David Straus, former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, spoke in Narberth.

Monday afternoon, Rabbi Batya Glazer, director of the JCRC, participated in an interreligious service at Saint Joseph’s University organized by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations.

Meanwhile, national Jewish groups responded with statements lamenting the tragic events.

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said his organization was “appalled by the murderous assaults.”

“Racist individuals imbued with pure hatred of Muslims have attacked normally peaceful New Zealand,” he added. “We say as loudly as we can: We stand against hate and xenophobia. We stand against racism. We stand against terrorism. We stand for mutual understanding. We stand for mutual respect. We stand for pluralism. We stand for coexistence and outreach.”

Zionist Organization of America’s President Morton A. Klein and Chairman Mark Levenson issued a joint statement:

“The vicious terrorists who perpetrated this monstrous act are nothing less than evil scum. The Jewish community is especially sensitive to such horrible religious hate crimes and murders since almost 60 percent of all religious hate crimes in America are committed against Jews.”

In its statement, the Anti-Defamation League pointed to the problem of social media.

“As has become a pattern with white supremacist violence, the shooter not only meticulously planned the attack, but also designed it for social media, even live streaming it on Facebook,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The fact that his video is still accessible on several social media websites is a reminder that these platforms need to do more to stem the flow of hateful messages and memes on their platforms, especially white supremacist memes targeting Muslims, Jews and other minorities.”

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America also responded, saying, “We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters of good faith throughout the world against senseless hatred and bigotry, and the despicable violence they breed. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the horrific murder of innocent people, and the added abhorrence of violence in houses of prayer.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder echoed national statements, saying, “We must redouble efforts to combat hatred and division in our societies, from wherever it emanates.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “Israel mourns the wanton murder of innocent worshippers in Christchurch and condemns the brazen act of terror in New Zealand. Israel sends its condolences to the bereaved families and its heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.”

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