In the past five days, we have all been processing the murderous attacks by a violent white supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We have read about the 50 victims. We have seen the outpouring of support and powerful acts of solidarity – solidarity which goes in many different directions. One example: on Friday, a vigil was planned at Washington Square Park in New York City, originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Organizers moved the vigil to 4:30 p.m. to allow Shabbat-observant Jews to join. Even in their moment of grief, Muslims made space to respect Jewish time and offer an invitation to mourn together.
On Saturday night, I joined clergy, elected officials, and laypeople from the area at a vigil at Temple Beth-El in Somerset. It is unfortunate that as I have transitioned into the role of rabbi at CKS, the best opportunities to meet my fellow clergy have been at vigils for attacks on places of prayer. It is heartbreaking. As Rafael Shimunov of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), wrote eloquently, “When you kill someone praying, you are killing them at the moment they closed their eyes, turned their back to the door, tuned out every sound and decided that this will be the moment they will trust the rest of humanity the most.” Attacks like these can make it harder for us to continue to trust humanity. And yet, we must find the strength. We can’t let one act of hatred blind us to the overwhelming number of acts of love in the world. Most of these acts of love don’t make the news. But we must seek them out. They remind us that this world is more than just evil.
I was reminded that not all congregants use Facebook – or are not connected with me or CKS on Facebook – and thus haven’t seen my posts on the subject, and may have been waiting to hear an official statement from me regarding Friday’s events. And not all congregants were at Friday night’s services to hear me speak on the attacks. I apologize wholeheartedly to those of you who were expecting words of comfort that didn’t arrive. I hope to remedy that by offering the resources below. I also invite you to send me a friend request on Facebook and to follow CKS’ Facebook page to stay connected through a variety of media.
The Reconstructionist movement put out a beautiful statement, which linked people to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Islamophobic Attack Emergency Relief Fund. I encourage you, if you are called to donate, to donate to this fund.
There have been a number of interfaith vigils in the past few days, covering a variety of geographic areas in which CKS members live. Our own Heather Ciociola has been doing an admirable job collecting and distributing information about NJ events at the Facebook group Jews for Refugees.
There is an interfaith solidarity event tomorrow night from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Islamic Society of Central Jersey on Route 1 in Monmouth Junction. I encourage you to join me there.
Lastly, I want to ask you to join me in a more long-term “response.” I have reached out to Imam Suleiman of the Islamic Circle of Mercer County, the mosque near me in Lawrence Township (he’s newer to his job than me – he’s only been there for four months!). Although I was not able to attend the vigil there, I asked him to let me know ways that I and members of the CKS community could offer support in an ongoing way. And I let him know that I intend to follow up – well after the vigils have died down. I intend to do the same outreach to the other mosques in the places where CKS members live, and I encourage you to take the initiative to do the same. The important thing about solidarity is that it not pop up only in response to an awful event.
I’m inspired by the connections made by my colleagues at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City. After the attacks, Muslims at the Islamic Center of NYU had no doubt that members of CBST, the largest LGBT congregation in the world, would be standing outside to support them and to offer their loving presence for the Friday afternoon Jummah service – because members of CBST have been there to offer their loving presence and support every Friday afternoon since the first iteration of the Muslim ban went into effect more than two years ago. They have committed themselves to be in relationship with their neighbors – to get to know each other, and learn from each other, and struggle together.
One of CBST’s rabbis, my classmate and colleague Rabbi Marisa Elana James, offered these words over two weeks ago: “Lots of Jews (including those in major leadership positions) don’t really understand Islamophobia, and say things or act in ways (sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes intentionally) that are Islamophobic. Lots of Muslims (including those in major leadership positions) don’t really understand anti-semitism, and say things or act in ways (sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes intentionally) that are anti-semitic. I’m interested in how we all learn more together, how we work to build relationships that matter, how we learn to understand the particular hatreds and traumas and attacks that can look really different, but are often coming from the same people…This stuff is hard, friends. But it’s not going to get easier if we’re not learning from each other, approaching hard things with curiosity and humility, and building together.”
I leave you with words from Reconstructing Judaism’s statement on the attacks: “May the One who created us all lead us to be better than this.” Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will.