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Sharing our Process in Responding to the New Zealand Mosque Shootings

by Rabbi Dev Noily

On March 15, we learned of the horrible attack against people praying in Masjid Al Noor and the Linwood Masjid in New Zealand. We continue to mourn and to build our relationships with local Muslim communities in the wake of the attack.

Sometime later I was talking with Kehilla’s board co-chair, Karen Cohn, and I shared our process as we learned about the attacks and began to respond. Karen encouraged me to share some of that more widely, and suggested a Kol Kehilla article, so that more people in our community would have a sense of what we were doing and how we were thinking as the news of the attack broke, and we began to connect with our Muslim neighbors and friends.

The shooting was during Friday prayers in New Zealand, which was Thursday night for us. Many of us heard about it Friday morning, as Shabbat approached. Our clergy team — Hazzan Shulamit, Rabbi David and I– started thinking about how we and our community could show up for our Muslim siblings, and how, when and what to communicate with our Kehilla community. Rabbi David contacted our colleagues at the Islamic Cultural Center (ICCNC), our partner for many years in the Faith Trio. He learned that a first step would be for a few of us as clergy to show up there in solidarity for Friday prayers, which we did.

One question I had was: how quickly should we try to mobilize our community? I was brought back to the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting. It also happened during weekly prayers, on Shabbat morning. When that news broke, we had a series of immediate needs. First, we needed basic information – what happened? Who was hurt or killed? Did we or people close to us know the dead or the injured? Then we thought about what our community would need – a place to gather, a way to be together and mourn and process what had happened and what it meant for us. Bend the Arc took the lead in organizing a vigil for that night at Lake Merritt. It happened that Rabbi Gray and I were in West Marin with a Kehilla School retreat. We had decisions to make about whether I would stay on the retreat or return to Oakland, and we had to think about what would be best for the students, and how to communicate with their parents. We had to get word out to as many of our members and friends about the vigil that night.

While we were doing all this, my inbox was filling up. There were dozens of expressions of solidarity and love, and offers of help. The interfaith coalitions we’re part of were immediately activated, and they wanted to organize actions to protect and surround local synagogues to help keep us safe.

I was so grateful for all of those expressions of love and solidarity and support. And at the same time, I was completely focused on what our own community needed. In those first 24 hours, we didn’t have bandwidth to respond to all of the offers we were receiving. It took a few days for the Kehilla leadership to figure out what we needed and how we would respond. We decided to hold an Open Door Shabbat, the Friday night after the shooting – almost a week later. And we decided we wanted our friends and allies inside the building praying with us, not outside the building helping to protect us as we prayed inside. Maybe you were there that Friday night. It was an overwhelming experience of love, solidarity and community in a time of grief and mourning.

So it was with that experience in mind that I found myself questioning my feelings of urgency after the Mosque shootings. Did we need to put out a statement right away? Did we need to direct people to gatherings happening that night? Did we need to wait and learn more about what our Muslim neighbors and colleagues would want and welcome? Did we need to give them time to tend to their own communities’ needs before asking how we could support them? Would we learn more in the coming day or so that would help us to communicate more fully with our members? And where was my sense of urgency coming from? — would reacting faster be a better way to serve our community and our Muslim siblings, and/or would it satisfy my pressing need to do something? And as we considered these questions, and stayed focused on the news and on how our local Muslim leaders were responding, Shabbat was drawing closer, and we prepared for services that night and the next morning.

We made the decision not to send out an email message to the whole community before Shabbat, but to post information on our Kehilla FaceBook pages, and to re-post messages from our community partners there. (Kehilla actually has two FaceBook pages – one is our organizational page, where staff manage the content, and the other is a Kehilla Community Synagogue Group page, where everyone can post and talk amongst ourselves. Both pages are a good place to look at at times like this – we can get information out more quickly there, and we can update more easily and frequently.)

Our message to the Kehilla community went out on Sunday night. By then, we had learned of a community vigil at Lake Merritt on Monday night, organized by AROC, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, and supported by many of our interfaith colleagues and community allies. I felt very humbled and honored to be invited to speak at the vigil. So many of you were there, and I felt so proud of our community’s commitment to show up for our neighbors, our siblings, in a time of grief, vulnerability and determination to stand together against hate.

We continue to mourn, and to support our Muslim neighbors and friends as best we can. We continue to try to understand, integrate, and respond to the ways hate and violence are increasing around us. We continue to build our personal resistance and resilience, and to build our movements that name and reject violent systems of oppression that attempt to dehumanize some of us, and that particularly target People of Color.

Ours is a powerful community, and we live in a powerful place. Here and now, we can build on decades of relationships and histories of organizing to uproot systems of oppression and to grow the infrastructures of justice. This is the season of our liberation. And we see more and more every day how all people’s liberation on this tiny, reeling planet is bound up together. I’m entering this season with so many questions about how to walk this path, and with such gratitude to be walking it together.

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