Interfaith leaders stand against hate after New Zealand mosque attacks

Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation speaks March 15 at the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis in the wake of the terrorist attack at mosques in New Zealand. Photo: Eric Berger

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

In what has become an all-too-familiar ritual in recent years, Jewish clergy and community leaders joined members of other faiths Friday at the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis to support the Muslim community after a terrorist killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. 

Members of the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis also gathered after an October attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and after a 2015 shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. 

“We who have had losses like this know that you are never the same after something like this happens,” Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation told about 200 people at a press conference. “And so we need each other because we have to respond in the holiest of ways and fill the space that those holy worshippers filled in the world.”

The parking lot of the mosque was full before the press conference, as hundreds more had come to pray. 

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Rabbis from across the Jewish community attended the event, and Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, also spoke.

Shortly before the New Zealand attacks, the shooter distributed a manifesto filled with white nationalist ideology. He also livestreamed the attack. 

The ADL decried “the patently false and twisted fascist thinking behind the manifesto purported to be the justification for the shooter and those associated with the attack,” Aroesty said. 

Picker Neiss pointed out the large number of rabbis who were at the press conference despite the fact that there were only a few hours until the start of Shabbat. 

“Attacks like the one we witnessed last night want to send a message,” she said. “Terrorists want to say that you’re not welcome, that you’re not with us, that you should be afraid. One man tried to say that last night, and hundreds of people came out today on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. to say to you that you are not alone.”

Imam Muhamed Hasic of the Islamic Community Center said after the press conference that the current era reminds him of the time before World War II. 

“If you let evil unchecked, it’s just growing and swallowing the majority of the good people,” Hasic said. “We see in every society the vast majority are wonderful and good people, but a few apples who are making the noise and making this kind of horrific crime and terrorize others. I think society has to raise up the next generation to understand each other, not to hate each other. Media, politicians, religious leaders, everyone has got to be involved.”

Hasic said he has been involved with interfaith efforts for more than 20 years and has many Jewish friends.

“We appreciate very much the support of every single person who came today,” he said. “And we all together — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, believers, atheists — have to stand together against this horrific crime and against the hate.”