Local Jews Honor New Zealand Mosque Victims
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Local Jews Honor New Zealand Mosque Victims

A March 21 vigil in Clarkston drew hundreds to honor the 50 lives lost in terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand.

Kevin Madigan is a senior reporter for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Muslim attendees with names and photos of Christchurch victims.
Muslim attendees with names and photos of Christchurch victims.

A vigil in Clarkston on March 21 drew hundreds to honor the 50 lives lost in terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand. The event, held at Refuge Coffee, a nonprofit that provides refugees with job training and mentorship, was partly arranged by Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim.

“I would have been here regardless,” Rabbi Lesser told the AJT. “After Pittsburgh I felt just overwhelmed by the interfaith support we got. That’s why I helped organize it, and because a good Muslim friend of mine, Dr. Heval Kelli, asked me to. I wanted to respond with the same kindness that we received after the Tree of Life shooting.” 

His fellow congregant, Alisa Bouer, agreed. “We are very sad, but more than anything, Muslims really stepped up and gave a lot when we had the shootings in Pittsburgh. When we had our vigil at CBH, it was packed, and a lot of folks from the Muslim community were there,” she said. “We are all brothers and sisters and support each other.”

Rabbi Joshua Lesser, left, and Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal, right, with other speakers at the Clarkston vigil.

Rabbi Lesser described the Clarkston gathering as a chance for leaders and representatives from different faith communities around Atlanta to offer words of mourning, of healing, of unity, and of action.

He told the crowd, “We stand for the Muslim community in solace and solidarity and support. Our neighbor, our friend, and our faith family is hurt and our community member is grieving. We too are grieving. We stand together. We grieve and respond as a human family.”

The attacks in Christchurch on March 15 targeted the Al Noor Mosque, where 43 people were killed, and the Linwood Mosque, where another seven died; many were also injured in both places. The country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who is banning the type of automatic weapon used in the massacres, has received praise for her handling of the crisis.

Amina Osman wants to forgive.

“She led with her heart and with love,” said Atlanta’s Honorary Consul for New Zealand Ian Latham, who came to the Clarkston vigil.

Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim Synagogue spoke as well: “Our goodness doesn’t come from our similarities. Rather, (it) comes from our differences. We are not made good by being superior over others. … Only when we are able to embrace and cherish our differences are we truly acting in G-d’s ways,” he said. “Our gathering here right now, thousands of miles away from the crime, is proof that 50 souls still matter and are considered part of G-d’s goodness in the world.”

A young mourner and her mother view photographs of the victims.

Amina Osman, a Muslim, told the AJT: “They want to kill us, but we are here to forgive them and keep loving because we are not here for revenge. We are here to love.”

Asked if Jews elsewhere in Atlanta were honoring the Christchurch victims, Rabbi Lesser said, “A number of rabbis and leaders were at the 14th Street mosque (Al-Farooq Masjid) on Sunday.” There was also a vigil held March 19 at the Istanbul Cultural Center attended by members of Congregation Etz Chaim.

Rabbi Rosenthal spoke at the March 21 vigil in Clarkston for the victims of a terrorist attack on New Zealand mosques.

Marsha Shrago was one of them. “I would say there were more than 100 people there. There were a number of speakers from different organizations: three rabbis including Rabbi [Albert] Slomovitz, a Baptist minister from Cartersville, a woman from a Catholic organization. And all the talks were about how we are in this together, how we have to remain solid and say ‘no’ to hate.”

Among those responding to the tragedy was Dov Wilker, regional director of AJC Atlanta. “American Jewish Committee is deeply saddened by the tragic events in New Zealand. As partners with the Muslim community for well over a decade, we know that only through education and people-to-people interactions will we be able to work together in hope of preventing future incidents. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Muslim community in Atlanta and around the world.”

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