22 March 2019 / 15 Adar-II 5779
For the first time in more than 175 years, all the synagogues in New Zealand were closed on Shabbat. In the wake of the horrific massacre, New Zealand authorities sent out an unprecedented message to the country’s Jews, that all synagogues were to be closed on Saturday, March 16th. Police warned the communities that it would be a security risk to hold services, knowing that right-wing extremists who target Muslims could equally target Jews and other minorities. The gunman who killed 50 Muslims not only hated Muslims but Jews, and anyone else who didn’t fit in with his odious white-supremacist views.
This Shabbat was Shabbat Zachor, when Jews recall the murderous nation of Amalek who attacked the Jewish people thousands of years ago as we journeyed out of Egypt. It’s read every year on the Shabbat before Purim, when we recall another plot to kill Jews, carried out by a descendent of Amalek, the wicked Haman. Shabbat Zachor reminds us that there is evil in the world that is relentlessly out to kill and destroy us. This year, as Christchurch’s Jews were forced to pray at home instead of in their beloved synagogues, that message resonated even more strongly.
Men, women and children shot. Mothers dying as they tried to shield their babies, people gunned down as they ran or crawled for safety. It was terrible to think of whole families being murdered as they prayed.
In the long history of the Jewish people, we too have been shot as we prayed. We too have been hunted and killed and massacred at prayer. Hundreds of terror attacks over the years have seen Jews killed in Israel, in France, in Argentina, in the United States and elsewhere, simply for the crime of being Jewish. We know what it feels like to be murdered for our religion, and the agony that comes from being hated.
We remember Amalek so that we can try and prevent hate crime from repeating itself. Yet the world struggles to remember this message.
Rabbi and Sheyna Riesenberg