Church Massacre Outrages Jewish Leaders

Church Massacre Outrages Jewish Leaders

Opher Aviran for Atlanta Jewish Times
Ambassador Opher Aviran, the Israeli consul general to the Southeast

The fatal shooting of nine people Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston brought reactions from the Jewish community Thursday.

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in North Carolina and accused of carrying out the massacre after sitting through a prayer meeting for an hour.

“As the people of the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina remember the lives of the nine individuals murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I, along with my family, the consulate staff, and the Israeli community at large, offer our sincerest condolences,” said Ambassador Opher Aviran, the consul general of Israel to the Southeast. “This brutal act of violence exposes the threats democratic societies like ours face when hate rears its ugly head. We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act carried out against innocent victims gathered in a house of worship, a place that should serve as a refuge and place of inspiration. The people of the state of Israel mourn with you in this exceedingly difficult time.”

Aviran sent letters to South Carolina leaders to convey condolences to the families and community.

“Israeli-Americans across the country are heartbroken and horrified at the mass killings in Charleston. This despicable act struck especially deeply because it violated a house of peace and worship,” said Shawn Evenhaim, the chairman of the Israeli-American Council. “We stand with the Charleston community, the people of South Carolina and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences and prayers and condemn such senseless acts of violence.”

“This horrific massacre of innocents at prayer is extreme depravity,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations. “We are shocked beyond words that someone could enter a house of worship in our country and commit such a horrific crime, all the more so if it was racially motivated.

“There must be no place for such violence and bigotry. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families as we reaffirm our commitment to civil rights and freedom of religion, which were trampled by this hateful act.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed horror and sorrow and pointed to indications that Roof is a white supremacist. A photo on his Facebook page shows Roof with two flag patches, one from apartheid-era South Africa and the other from white-ruled Rhodesia, both of which are used as symbols by white supremacists.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman and Southeast Regional Director Mark Moskowitz issued a joint statement: “The shooting rampage at Emanuel AME Church evokes memories of the bombing that killed four black schoolgirls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, more than 50 years ago. That tragedy was a wake-up call for all of us, and this one should be too.

“We are glad that the suspect has been apprehended. From what we know about this unspeakable crime, it is hard to imagine that there could have been any motive other than hate. We should all be looking in the mirror this morning and asking ourselves how such a tragedy could happen in America in 2015 and what we can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

B’nai B’rith International condemned the shooting at the church, a Charleston fixture since 1816: “Attacking people as they pray is the height of depravity. Our thoughts and prayers go to the victims’ families and those injured in the attack.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean, and Yitzchok Adlerstein, the director of interfaith affairs, said in a joint statement: “The Simon Wiesenthal Center is horrified by the apparent hate crime at a historic black church, where nine people attending a Bible class at the Emanuel AME Church were gunned down, reportedly by a young white gunman.”

The center officials offered solidarity with and expressed deep sorrow for the affected families. “All Americans are again confronted with the specter of a house of worship violated and our religious freedoms violently debased.”

The Jewish Federations of North America said: “Our hearts are broken for the nine souls lost in Charleston last night. To target peaceful worshipers for no apparent reason other than the color of their skin is abhorrent and horrendous. A house of worship should and must be a place of sanctity and of peace, a safe haven for all rather than a target of terror. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the entire Charleston community today, and we stand in solidarity with them against the forces of hatred and violence. May their memories be for a blessing.”

The Orthodox Union expressed outrage at the “heinous attack.”

“This act of senseless violence and brutal terror has no place anywhere in the world, but particularly not in a house of worship. Indeed, the perpetrators have violated all houses of worship with this vile attack. We support the efforts of law enforcement officials to bring swift and certain justice to the criminals,” the OU said. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic attack, pray for the injured and express our support for the people of Charleston at this very difficult time.”

Rachel Lasser, the deputy director of the “heartbroken” Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were taken, those who were injured, and with the entire community that has been traumatized by this violence. For all congregants — from the youngest children in religious school, to young professionals engaged in religious life, to longtime stalwarts of the community — houses of worship are places of safety, comfort and inspiration. For the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to have become last night a place of such horror tears at the heart of every person of faith and goodwill.”

The RAC, which advocates tougher gun control laws, said the shooting is a reminder that people who want to cause harm can too easily get guns.

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