August 19, 2019

Community Leaders Condemn Sri Lanka Easter Sunday Attacks

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Los Angeles community leaders have condemned a string of Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that left at least 321 people dead and more than 500 injured.

“It’s an attack on everybody, 100%,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in a phone interview the day after the attacks. “An attack on any community that is deemed to be ‘other’ by the perpetrators. That’s really what it is about: ‘We don’t want you to be able to practice your faith here.’ ” 

Sri Lanka is a small, Buddhist-majority island nation off the southern tip of India. According to the Associated Press, nine bomb blasts, carried out by “seven suicide bombers from a local militant Muslim group,” the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, targeted Roman Catholic churches and luxury hotels on April 21.

Among the sites targeted were St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church, and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels. Eight of the blasts occurred in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital; in Negombo, a mostly Catholic town north of Colombo; and in the eastern town of Batticaloa. A ninth occurred while police were conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo.

Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe called the attacks “heartbreaking.” In an email to the Journal, Wolpe said, “These bombings reflect the most savage and heartbreaking of modern fanaticisms — targeting innocent people at worship. We offer both our prayers and our promise: to struggle against those who seek to destroy, and to mourn and help heal those so cruelly attacked.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of egalitarian community IKAR said in an email, “We were anguished and horrified to come back online after two days of Passover — celebrating our people’s liberation from oppression — to hear of the terror attacks targeting the Christian community of Sri Lanka. No people, anywhere, should fear violence while worshipping in their holy places. The fact that this happened on the holy day of Easter makes it even more devastating. In the face of these atrocities, we must reaffirm our commitment to love and compassion as a counter-testimony to the hatred and extremism that are tearing apart humanity across the globe today. We stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka and pray that these attacks, rather than fuel more hatred and division, help bring our communities of faith together.”

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein wondered whether the world would ever learn to overcome hatred. “We’ve reached the 21st century, but we’re still plagued by medieval hatred. When will we ever learn?” Feinstein said in an email. His colleague, VBS Rabbi Noah Farkas, also denounced the attacks.

“These bombings reflect the most savage and heartbreaking of modern fanaticisms — targeting innocent people at worship.”
— Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue said, “It’s a horror that a coordinated attack took innocent lives in houses of worship and elsewhere. We pray with Jews, Muslims and Christians, all of whom have felt the body blows of terrorism.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Assistant Director for Policy and Communications Siamak Kordestani said, “Our hearts were broken by the news of the horrific attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. We reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka and our Christian friends around the world. We must work together to prevail in the fight against terrorism.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the attack was the latest example of “religious-inspired terrorism.” “The multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks on Easter that targeted churches and hotels, confirms that the scourge of religious-inspired terrorism remains a menace and threat to every civilized nation,” Cooper said in an email. “In 2019, Christian communities in places like Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia remain in the cross-hairs of those who seek to annihilate them.”

Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, also condemned the attacks.  “My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones in Sri Lanka,” Hasan said in an email. “Targeting people because of how they choose to worship is wrong. This is true whether it be churches in Sri Lanka, mosques in New Zealand, or a synagogue in Pittsburgh.”

“We are praying for our brothers and sisters who were killed this Easter morning in Sri Lanka,” Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gómez said in an April 21 statement. “May they know the promise of the Resurrection and may God bring comfort to their families and their loved ones. Only love can conquer evil and violence, so we ask Jesus this morning for the courage to love and we pray for the conversion of every heart that is hardened by hatred. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is our mother and the mother of mercy, console those who are suffering and watch over all of us. And may God grant us peace.”

And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) posted on twitter that he was “horrified” by the bombings. “These attacks on civilians and worshippers are cowardly and despicable,” he tweeted. “We will stand with Sri Lanka against terror.”