The New Zealand Jewish community decided to shut its synagogues on Shabbat for the first time ever in an act of solidarity with the Muslim community in the country in the wake of the slaying of at least 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch.
“For the first time in history synagogues in NZ are closed on Shabbat following the shocking massacre of Muslims in Christchurch,” Tweeted Isaac Herzog, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“The Jewish Agency and the NZ Jewish Council stand in solidarity with the bereaved families. We are united in fighting violent hatred and racism,” he said.
The UK’s Jewish News reported that the move was also partly over security concerns.
Among the synagogues to close this weekend, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation told members it had taken the “unprecedented step” to cancel all services this Shabbat over “concern about the security” of the community, Jewish News reported.
The Community Security Trust has also urged places of worship to exercise extra caution over the coming hours.
“Access control is of vital importance. Doors should be closed, to be opened for worshippers, school pupils etc, then closed again,” a statement by the CST read.
The New Zealand Jewish Council is ”sickened and devastated” by the attacks, in which at least one armed individual killed dozens of people by shooting them at close distance with a semi-automatic rifle.
For the first time in history synagogues in NZ are closed on Shabbat following the shocking massacre of Muslims in Christchurch. The Jewish Agency and the NZ Jewish Council stand in solidarity with the bereaved families. We are united in fighting violent hatred and racism.
— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) March 15, 2019
“We offer our full assistance and support to the Muslim community and stand united with it against the scourge of terrorism and racism, which we must do all we can to banish from New Zealand,” Stephen Goodman, the president of the New Zealand Jewish Council told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Statements of support also came from the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand and other leading organizations in New Zealand.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder expressed “horror and revulsion” at the attacks in a statement.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old fitness trainer from Australia, was charged with murder in connection with the shootings. He had in the past described himself as a “regular white man, from a regular family.”
Two other men and one woman are also in custody.
Police also found multiple explosive devices in a car belonging to one of the suspects, the BBC reported.
The attack, which came around the time people were attending the mosques for Friday prayers, was the deadliest in the nation’s history.
US politicians on Twitter drew comparisons between the mosque massacre and last October’s deadly shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed by a gunman who had ranted against Jews and immigration.
“Charleston, Pittsburgh, and now Christchurch,” tweeted Sen. Elizbath Warren (D-Mass.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Everyone should have the right to worship without fear, and an attack on a place of worship is terrorism perpetrated against all of us. My heart goes out to the people of New Zealand today.”
“Pittsburgh, Charleston, Quebec, New Zealand — no one should have to fear going to their place of worship,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “The hate that has fueled these horrific and cowardly acts MUST be called out. CA stands with New Zealand and Muslims everywhere.
President Donald Trump also offered his condolences.
“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The US stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!” he tweeted.