June 26, 2019

Interfaith Solidarity in Wake of New Zealand Terror Attacks

Rabbi Sharon Brous and Edina Lekovic hug in a show of love and support between a rabbi and Muslim-American leader. Photo by Ryan Torok

After the deadly attacks at the Masjid Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, Los Angeles interfaith leaders and elected officials quickly convened a press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) in Koreatown on March 15.

Close to 100 people attended the gathering, including Jewish LGBTQ leaders; members of modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea and egalitarian community IKAR; clergy from Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Beth Shir Shalom, and American Jewish University faculty and students.

“We are a city that is called ‘the City of Angels’ and today I feel those wings stretched out and joining together,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told attendees. “Our angels weep today as well for our brothers and sisters in New Zealand, for an attack on the most basic human impulse that we have — to talk to ourselves and to our God.”

IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous denounced the role Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry play in mass violence.

“Today we lift up all the survivors of violent hatred, from the Tree of Life to Sutherland Springs, to Mother Emanuel, to Oak Creek,” Brous said. “Today we lift up all the survivors and all of those who have lost loved ones to gun violence in this country and around the world, including some in our own family, who stand here today.”

ICSC Civic Liaison Hedab Tarifi said the way to prevent further acts of violence was for people of different faiths to unite. “We have no choice but to come together and work together in protecting the human family,” she said, “and working against and exposing that there is no one race that takes over and is supreme to the others. God created us all as one human family. It is our responsibility to protect that human family and keep the world safe for new generations.”

Tarifi added that she was annoyed after hearing that following the attacks, the mosques in New Zealand had been closed. “They need to come to L.A. to learn from example we have,” she said.

Tarifi made her comment after Los Angeles Police Department encouraged everyone to visit their various places of worship over the weekend to send a message that they will not let acts of hatred deter them from freely practicing their religions.

“The way we show the world our humanity, the way we show that this will not stand and the cowardliness of it, is by leaning into our faith, by leaning into our ability to demonstrate that the good of this world far outweighs the evil,” Moore said.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said pluralism has the power to combat hate. “We are calling on our congregants to stand tall against hate, stand together as one country and one people,” he said.

Beth Shir Shalom Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels chose to share his message via song, calling on everyone to fight hate with love. “Love, only love with all your heart; love, only love with all your soul,” he sang, finger picking the guitar strapped across his body.

“We needed that,” American Muslim leader Edina Lekovic said, thanking Comess-Daniels.

Rachel Simmons, a third-year rabbinic student at American Jewish University and a rabbinic intern at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, told the Journal that when she learned about the attack she cried. She then reached out to her teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, asking what to do.

Cohen, a professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University, told her about the gathering and they attended together. “The only way we to get through this is if we have each other’s backs,” Cohen told the Journal.

Simmons agreed. “For me, one of the holiest things you can do is accompany someone in their grief,” she said. “My duty is to show Muslims their pain is my pain.”

“See,” Cohen said. “She is my student.”

For many Jews, the gathering was also an opportunity to repay the favor after last year’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, when Muslim community members raised funds for the families of the 11 victims and even offered to stand guard outside synagogues on Shabbat.  

“For me, one of the holiest things you can do is accompany someone in their grief. My duty is to show Muslims their pain is my pain.” — Rachel Simmons 

“I saw the amount of support the Jewish community was shown with Pittsburgh,” Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) Cantor Lisa Peicott told the Journal, “and I just knew I had to be here to show the Muslim community we are in full support and we stand together against all kinds of hate and intolerance.”

“As Jewish people, we are standing up for those who are dealing with such horrible acts of violence, showing that we not only are thinking of them, but we are here standing and reaching out, as they have done with us,” WBT Rabbi Susan Goldberg said. 

And as Jewish communities come together to support their Muslim brothers and sisters, the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh currently is raising funds for families of the New Zealand victims. As of press time, it had raised nearly $16,000 of its $100,000 goal.

“We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence,” Tree of Life said in a statement. “We will continue to work toward a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”

Los Angeles-based NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change also issued a statement, saying, “As we begin another week here at NewGround, our team is thinking of the families mourning in New Zealand. We are also thinking about how our emphasis on understanding and plurality becomes more relevant by the day.”

Michael Jeser, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, also issued a statement saying, “Today, our Jewish community should say, unambiguously, that these acts of murder cannot be tolerated. Today, we reaffirm our core belief that the hate and bigotry that fuel such acts must be challenged, confronted and condemned in every corner of our society.”