AIR New Zealand: Dark days
Mar 28, 2019 | Miriam Bell
New Zealand’s Jewish community has opened up its arms and heart to the country’s Muslim community in the wake of the devastating Christchurch mosque terror attacks.
On Friday March 15, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic rifles killed 50 people who were worshipping in two separate mosques in the country’s third largest city. The killer, who posted an extremist manifesto which identified him as a white supremacist moments before embarking on his murderous rampage, filmed and live streamed the attacks on social media.
It was the deadliest attack in New Zealand’s history, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern describing it as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and an “extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence”.
As a nation, New Zealanders were left shocked, horrified and grieving. However, most people soon rallied to support the Muslim community and also to present a strong united front against the attack and all that it symbolised.
Among them was the Jewish community, which was quick to condemn the attacks as well as to show its support for, and offer its assistance to, the Muslim community.
NZ Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman said the Council didn’t have adequate words to describe how sickened and devastated they were by the attacks. “We stand united with the Muslim community against the scourge of terrorism and racism, which we must all do all that we can to banish from New Zealand.”
In a similar vein, Zionist Federation of NZ President Rob Berg said the “despicable and cowardly terrorist attack” was “an attack on us all.” It was “an act of pure evil and has no place in New Zealand or anywhere in the world”.
“To not be able to congregate safely as a community, or pray in a place of worship is something none of us thought we would see here in New Zealand,” he said. “All people should feel safe to come together as a community to pray, celebrate and commemorate.”
Statements of support were also released by the Holocaust Centre of NZ, the Wellington Jewish Congregations, and the Israel Institute of NZ – and a wide range of Jewish organisations from around the world.
New Zealand’s two senior rabbis, Auckland Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Nathanel Friedler and Wellington Jewish Community Centre’s Rabbi Ariel Tal, jointly sent a letter to the imams of the two mosques that were attacked.
They wrote: “We stand together against this horrific attack on the Muslim community in New Zealand. An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue. It is an attack on the most sacred place both religions share.”
“So many worlds were destroyed on Friday,” they continued. “Our hearts cry out and we mourn with your families… We offer our prayers and support during this difficult time to the Muslim community and to every New Zealander. We are one and we are strong together.”
In the week following the attacks, the two rabbis, along with Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, the head of Chabad in New Zealand, the NZ Jewish Council’s Juliet Moses, and other community members visited Christchurch to show their support.
Speaking to radio broadcaster Sean Plunket, Moses said the Muslim community’s response to their visit was humbling. “It was dignified, appreciative, warm, and hospitable.”
In New Zealand, the Jewish and Muslim communities traditionally have a good relationship which both communities have worked hard at, she said. “In Christchurch, we realised how much we have in common. Not just in terms of enemies [in the white supremacist mould] but in terms of culture and practices, like burials.”
The Jewish community is absolutely heartbroken for the Muslim community, Moses said. “Their suffering is unimaginable. We are trying to work out how best to support them… But now is the time to unite so that it is all the decent, reasonable people of New Zealand versus the tiny, fringe white supremacist minority.”
Currently, the NZ Jewish Council is co-ordinating community donations to a newly established fund which is intended to assist and honour the Muslim community. They will be consulting Muslim organisations, leaders, and representatives to establish how to best use the fund to help.
But the terror attacks have had implications for the Jewish community too. The country’s synagogues were closed over the days following the attack, which meant Shabbat services were cancelled for the first time ever in New Zealand. The country’s only Jewish school, Kadimah, was closed the Monday after the attack and is now under police guard.
It’s common knowledge that the Jewish community has been wary of and worried about security issues for some time, especially given rising antisemitism both in New Zealand and globally. Muslim leaders have been vocal about similar fears.
Now both Jewish and Muslim spokespeople are clearly keener than ever to properly address these concerns with the police and other relevant agencies.
Meanwhile, a national dialogue around racism, including Islamophobia and antisemitism, is developing in New Zealand. Perhaps, when the time is right and the Muslim community has had time to grieve, this dialogue will allow for those security concerns, along with other issues, to be properly addressed.