No stranger to the rejuvenating effect of knowing that people halfway across the world are with you in your time of need, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, itself less than five months removed from the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building in Squirrel Hill, was among the first to reach out to Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, reeling in the aftermath of attacks on two mosques March 15 that left 50 worshippers dead.
Linking the two, according to news reports, was a white supremacist hate that makes little if any distinctions between hated groups.
“Unfortunately we are all too familiar with the devastating effect a mass shooting has on a faith community,” Meryl Ainsman, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said in a statement. “We are filled with grief over this senseless act of hate. May those who were injured heal quickly and fully, and may the memories of the victims forever be a blessing.”
As news of the attacks on the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre spread late last week, the Federation began accepting donations to help the Muslim community of Chirstchurch.
“We were definitely motivated in part by the fact that the Muslim community of Pittsburgh was enormously supportive after the Oct. 27 shooting,” said Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing.
By Tuesday, the Federation had received more than $230,000. That sum, as well as the fact that more than 3,200 donors have contributed, was staggering, said Hertzman.
“We have a regular role in the Jewish community to raise money in times of crisis, so when we opened this fundraising effort we had no idea what would happen,” he said. “We thought there might be some people in the Jewish community who would help the victims of the shooting in New Zealand.”
Past efforts, such as those to raise money for victims of terror in Israel or earthquake victims in Nepal, have garnered the support of hundreds, so when thousands of individuals began donating, Hertzman was amazed. “This all happened over the weekend. We are literally [still] processing the payments today.”
The Federation fund will remain open until March 29, and although the umbrella organization has not yet determined “who the right partner is,” the Federation is exploring several outlets for disbursement, said Hertzman. “Ordinarily when we do crisis relief, which we do regularly, we go through our international partner, the … American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, [which] does not have offices in New Zealand. So we have reached out to them to determine whether they are the right partner, and if not there are a number of options of organizations who are on the ground in New Zealand.”
A similar fundraising effort was established on March 16 by members of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
“After the March 15 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, we feel compelled to come to the aid of those communities, just as our Jewish community was so compassionately supported only a few short months ago by people around the world of many faiths,” the congregation announced on its GoFundMe page. “We recall with love the immediate, overwhelming support Tree of Life received from our Muslim brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh.”
Like the Federation, Tree of Life has yet to identify where the funds will be distributed.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than $34,000 had been received. The congregation’s goal is to raise $100,000.
“We are profoundly saddened by the horrific shooting in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,” read a joint statement from Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life. “We grieve with our fellow sons and daughters of Abraham on the senseless loss of life due to senseless hatred, which is an abomination in a civilized society. We stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence. We will continue to work towards a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills announced on Facebook that in solidarity “with our Muslim brothers and sisters as they enter their mosque to pray,” he would attend services at the Attawheed Islamic Center on Friday. He asked people to join him between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. and/or 12:40 p.m until 1:25 p.m. at the center, located at 401 Washington Ave. in Carnegie.
“Our love is stronger than hate,” Greenbaum wrote in the post.
The pattern of shootings and rallying support was not lost on Bob Silverman, chair of the Federation’s Community Relations Council.
At its most basic level, “ignorance and distrust” of the other is spurring attacks on minority groups, according to Silverman.
Silverman was at a Federation event Sunday evening at the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara, where individuals from both the Jewish and Sikh communities were invited “to share prayer, food, reflections and solidarity.”
Representatives of the Sikh community delivered flowers and a book filled with supportive messages to the Federation in the days following the Tree of Life attack.
While Sikhism is independent of Islam, the New Zealand attack occurred “just two days prior to this event,” said Silverman. “Obviously it was a topic of conversation.”
“Our communities sadly know all too well the horrors of being targeted by white supremacists or people that hate us,” he explained. Sunday’s program offered “an opportunity to bond together and move forward.”
On Aug. 5, 2012, six worshippers at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis., were killed after a white supremacist entered the building and began shooting. Pardeep Singh Kaleka, whose father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was among those killed, spoke about the attack and efforts to combat hatred during a panel presentation at the August Wilson Cultural Center last month.
“By sticking together and finding common ground” we can make clear that “love is stronger than hate,” said Silverman. “I know it is a cliché, but it does carry some meaning. It really is the only way we are going to get through this.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.