IN an unprecedented move, New Zealand’s only Jewish school was closed on Monday while all shule services were cancelled over the weekend in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack.
While media across the world reported that congregations closed in solidarity with the Muslim community, The AJN can reveal that New Zealand Police asked synagogues and the school to shut their doors due to concerns over follow-up attacks.
“Closing the shules on Friday and Saturday was also unprecedented, but no one knew what the situation was, and there could have been other maniacs running around,” New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman told The AJN.
It is believed to be the first time in Australasian history that synagogues or a Jewish school have been closed due to concerns over terrorism.
Fears arose after a gunman stormed the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on Friday afternoon, killing 50 worshippers and injuring dozens more.
In the ensuing hours preceding Shabbat, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation wrote to members of the community, acting on advice from New Zealand Police “to cancel all services until the situation is fully understood and under control”.
The advice was adhered to by Orthodox and Progressive congregations across the North and South Islands. They remained closed until Monday, while Auckland’s Kadimah School was also closed on Monday due to security concerns before reopening on Tuesday with a police presence.
“The police weren’t sure if it was an isolated attack, and their advice was that unless we absolutely had to open, we should close it as a matter of caution,” said Goodman.
“There was a fear that because someone decided to attack the Muslim community that they could attack the Jewish community next. The attack reverberated around the country.”
Goodman’s sentiments were echoed by vice-president of Beth Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Auckland, Alistair Kirk.
“We are still quite in shock and very nervous,” he said, sharing that the community is in constant contact with police as they attempt to “establish a new normal”.
“Like everyone, we share in the horror of the atrocity, and the grief of everyone in the nation,” Kirk said, adding that “as Jews, it all felt particularly close to home”.
The AJN understands that a joint effort is currently underway between the Orthodox and Progressive communities to provide support to the affected mosques.
Earlier this week, representatives of the New Zealand Jewish Council visited Christchurch where the immediate need for donations was identified.
Goodman confirmed that the Jewish community will release some money for victims, while also working out a long-term plan for education support for the victims and their families.
“We are hoping to raise $100,000 from the local community which we will try and donate straight away,” he said.
“It’s heart breaking when you go down there and talk to these people – they are just totally unable to conceptualise what needs they are going to have. That is part of our problem. Their whole life has been shattered. The slow release of the bodies is causing them enormous grief.”
And it has caused shockwaves throughout the local community.
Christchurch’s Canterbury Hebrew Congregation issued a statement on its Facebook page on Friday which offered condolences “to the families and our friends from the Muslim community here in Christchurch”.
“Today is a tragic day for us all in New Zealand. We stand together as one people. One society. Our prayers go out to you,” the congregation added.
The outpouring of support was further expressed in a letter to the imams of both mosques penned by Rabbi Natti Friedler, senior rabbi of Auckland Hebrew Congregation, and Rabbi Ariel Tal, the senior rabbi of Wellington Jewish Community Centre.
“An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue,” the letter read. “It is an attack on the most sacred place both religions share.”
They added, “Abraham was famous for his kindness and hospitality. These traits are key to both Islam and Judaism and to our entire world. Through kindness we can heal the world and bring peace to the whole human race.”
Full coverage in this week’s AJN.