JBOD: Standing by our fundraising campaign

Muslim worshippers grieving at a makeshift memorial at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Whether or not Muslims had united for Pittsburgh Synagogue, raising funds for Christchurch was the right thing to do, writes NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff.

AS white-supremacist Robert Bowers was led away by Special Weapons And Tactics officers after murdering 11 congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October, he yelled that he wanted “all Jews to die”.

The most devastating attack on Jews in US history, the massacre elicited a predictable outpouring from Jewish communities globally, as well as messages of solidarity from political leaders.

Tweeted former US president Barack Obama: “We grieve for the Americans murdered in Pittsburgh. All of us have to fight antisemitism and hateful rhetoric against those who look, love or pray different.”

And European Union official Frans Timmermans: “Antisemitism comes in many guises, starting with words and ending with deadly violence. The hatred must stop. We must all speak out against it.”

Perhaps less predictable was a poignant message from Nada Haq-Siddique of New York’s Islamic Centre: “I grew up around Jewish people. Even though we may squabble about different things, we are all human and want the same things. Very often when hatred rises, the Jewish community is targeted first.”

On the day of the massacre, the Islamic Centre of Pittsburgh established an alliance with two other Muslim organisations to form Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue, with the following declaration: “We respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action”.

Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue raised over $US180,000 for the families affected by the Pittsburgh massacre, handing over the cheques a few short weeks later.

On March 15 another white-supremacist took 50 lives at two Christchurch mosques, leaving scores more injured. Shockwaves reverberated around the world, prompted by the extraordinary cruelty in executing people at their most vulnerable – at prayer in a house of worship – and by the fact that it occurred in peaceful New Zealand.

Within hours, working with one of Sydney Jewry’s most generous benefactors, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies set up a crowdfunding operation to assist the shattered Christchurch Muslim community. The response has been exceptional, with 432 people collectively contributing over $69,000 at the time of going to press, the donations ranging from $5 to $5000.

“The Jewish community understands terrorism,,” wrote Raphael Kahn, “no matter to whom it is directed.” And: “The racist extremists who do these atrocities do not see any difference between Muslims and Jews,” said Geoffrey and Lolita Lewis. And a Muslim donor: “It is so heartwarming to see people of all faiths come together to condemn violence. We are all humans and need to live in harmony and peace. Well done to the Board of Deputies for this initiative” – a response reiterated by numerous Australian Muslim leaders.

There have also been critical responses, however. One community member described himself as “aghast” at the crowdfunding; another was “incredulous”; another asked “How about we look after our own first”. Yet another: “This can’t be a Jewish group; if it is, hang your heads in shame”; while another questioned whether the Board of Deputies would also fundraise for the burnt fields on the Gaza border and for the security of our synagogues.

It is relevant that all 432 people who donated to the crowdfunding campaign did so voluntarily. It is relevant that our community remits millions of dollars to Israel through multiple organisations for multiple causes, including victims of terrorism. It is relevant that the Board of Deputies recently raised $4.2 million for vital security infrastructure for the NSW Jewish community. 

But that is peripheral to the real issue. It sounds trite but it bears reiterating: we are all members of one race – the human race. We all want our loved ones to return home safely each day. Without having been abused or worse because of their race, religion, gender, sexual preference or any another feature which suggests difference.

Jews and Muslims in particular suffer horrendous bigotry because we – I deliberately identify us collectively – have different faiths and practices.

And let’s not forget that the alleged killer’s manifesto stressed that he is not hostile to Jews – provided they live in Israel. What does that mean? That he would consider murdering us too if we remain in the Diaspora? Might he have considered also entering a synagogue?

“At the heart of most conspiracy theories is antisemitism,” wrote Greg Sheridan in the Weekend Australian, noting that the principal drivers of antisemitism today are the extreme Left, Islamist extremism and white-supremacism.

All of which points to the reality that the most effective way of making the world a better place for all is to cast aside differences where we can and meaningfully support each other where we can.

Which is why our crowdfunding campaign was the appropriate response. For the Muslim community of Christchurch. For the Jewish community of Australia. For all humanity. It was compassion trumping politics.

Whether or not Muslims had united for Pittsburgh Synagogue, raising funds for Christchurch was the right thing to do. The Jewish community opposes all forms of bigotry and terrorism, which means any lesser response would have constituted a double standard.

Wrote Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Kindness, compassion, lie at the core of humanity. They represent the truth that by sharing our vulnerabilities, we discover strength.”

Vic Alhadeff is CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. To make a donation, visit https://au.gofundme.com/christchurch-appeal-nsw-jewish-board-of-deputies.