Dear Members of the Muslim Community,

In the wake of Friday’s horrific massacre at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, I have to reach out. Many people I know have said that in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy, that words fail them. “I wish I knew what to say” one acquaintance told me; others posted on social media that “there are no words”.

On the contrary, there are words, plenty of them, and they have to be said. I don’t share your religion. I am an Orthodox Jew living in America, far removed from the Muslim community in New Zealand. But the massacre in the mosques shows that we share a great deal.

The gunman hated us both, Muslims, Jews, and anyone else who didn’t fit in with his odious white-supremacist views.

The gunman who killed 50 of your co-religionists – I won’t write his name so as not to give him one iota of the recognition or glory he ostensibly craved – hated us both, Muslims, Jews, and anyone else who didn’t fit in with his odious white-supremacist views. “Screw the optics” he posted on social media in the moments before he started his rampage – a direct reference to the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter who killed 11 Jews in Pittsburgh last October, who posted those same words before storming the synagogue and shooting Jews.

The New Zealand killer sported an array of neo-Nazi and white supremacist badges. He wore the patch of an Australian neo-Nazi group, wrote an American neo-Nazi slogan on his rifle, and sported a Ukrainian neo-Nazi symbol on his jacket. As he carried out his massacre, he played a song glorifying Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and urged people to subscribe to the Swedish social media star and white-supremacist role model PewDiePie. Though he targeted Muslims, he seems to hate Jews and many others too.

In the wake of the horrific massacre, New Zealand authorities sent out an unprecedented message to the country’s Jews: all synagogues were to be closed on Saturday, March 16. With the entire country on high alert, the police were unable to guard every minority religion’s house of worship. Across Christchurch, the synagogues made the extraordinary announcement they would not be opening for services on Shabbat.

It’s shocking to think of an entire city’s Jews being barred from synagogue on Shabbat, and this Shabbat it was even more dreadful. It 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.

In my own synagogue, packed with people taking part in the mitzvah remembering Amalak’s wickedness, I kept thinking of the scene in New Zealand mosques: 50 people murdered and many more seriously injured. Men, women and children shot. Mothers dying as they tried to shield their babies, people gunned down as they ran or crawled for safety. I couldn’t imagine the terror they felt. 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. Just five years ago in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, two Arab terrorists entered the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue and massacred worshippers, killing congregants with guns, knives and axes. Four Jews died as they prayed, and a Druze Israeli police officer responding to the scene was also murdered.

Hundreds of terror attacks in the years since then 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.

I will judge people according to their actions, not their ethnicities.

Some might point to the fact that often it’s been Muslim terrorists who were behind these attacks that killed Jews and wonder if we could still feel your pain. In my opinion, that’s an offensive question. Unlike the despicable murderer who killed 50 Muslims in New Zealand on Friday, I don’t hate whole categories of people. With prejudice and neo-Nazism and radical Islam and other forms of extremist hate on the rise globally, I take a stand never to hate a group of people simply for who they are. Every person is capable of good and evil, and we each choose which path we take. Recognizing this is an essential part of civilization. I won’t surrender the right to judge each people according to their actions, not their ethnicities.

Christchurch’s Muslims were peacefully going about their business. They were praying to the same God I pray to every day. It’s heartbreaking to know they were gunned down in cold blood.

My Muslim fellow human beings, I am immeasurably sorry for your loss. This is a horrific tragedy. I condemn the hate that led to this massacre. I feel your pain. I stand with you. I am praying for your dead, and for the injured who are fighting for their lives. You are not alone.

Yours Sincerely,
Yvette Alt Miller