Our hearts go out today to our Muslim friends who are experiencing tragedy once again with the attack on the mosque in New Zealand. Nearly 50 people have lost their lives and so many people are feeling the emotional pain and devastation of the attack. Even when these attacks do not happen in our religious sites, we feel shaken and distraught over these stories. A prayer space should always be a safe space. A mosque or a synagogue or a church is a sacred space where people gather to be with one another and to recite prayers for peace. My mind can answer why an attack like this can happen in a mosque but my heart continues to ask why and why in this space?
This is of course not the first attack we have witnessed on Muslims and it is far from the first attack we have witnessed on a religious site. And each time I read a story like this one, I feel that it is an attack on religious life. As victims of so many religious attacks throughout our history, the Jewish people must always speak up and speak out against attacks on any religious institution and against hatred of any kind.
I know many national Jewish organizations have made public statements this morning condemning the attacks and offering support to the Muslim community. Among the most powerful that I read is the following statement from the American Jewish Committee:
AJC Horrified by Fatal Attacks on New Zealand Mosques
March 15, 2019 - New York - American Jewish Committee (AJC) is appalled by the murderous assaults on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 49 worshipers were killed and more than 20 seriously injured in shooting attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque during Friday morning prayers.
"Racist individuals imbued with pure hatred of Muslims have attacked normally peaceful New Zealand," said AJC CEO David Harris. "Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of today's unspeakable crime of mass murder."
Harris 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."
One of the attackers detained by police, a man in his 20s, has been charged with murder. Portions of the attacks were broadcast live on social media. A manifesto railing against Muslims and immigrants also was issued.
"We in the United States have witnessed horrific attacks on houses of worship, including churches, mosques, and synagogues. No one is fully protected from violent hatemongers," said Harris. "We are truly saddened that this same hatred has emerged so violently in New Zealand. The answer must be unity, solidarity, and linked arms against evil."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the "terrorist attack" on the mosques "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
Where ever you will be this Shabbat, I encourage you to say a personal prayer for peace; peace for all people, including those from all religious denominations and with all different religious beliefs. I remind you that in our Siddur, in addition to the prayers for peace, there are prayers directed to our enemies. In those prayers we ask God to "frustrate the designs of our enemies." Notice, we would never pray for the destruction of any people including our enemies. We just want our enemies to not be successful. When I ask God to "frustrate the designs of our enemies" I include anyone who attacks any religious institution in our world or causes emotional pain to any one of any religious belief.
This weekend - we all need to pray for peace including those who pray on Friday in mosques, on Saturday in synagogues and on Sunday in churches.
Rabbi Adam Feldman