ORLANDO — Central Florida’s Jewish community started laying the groundwork for interfaith cooperation with Muslims Monday as the nation reeled in grief and anger after an anti-gay gunman killed 50 people in the worst-ever mass killing in recent U.S. history.
Rabbi Steven Engel of the Congregation for Reform Judaism, the largest synagogue in Orlando, and Imam Muhammad Masri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, spoke by phone to plan a joint memorial service for the victims at the Pulse nightclub attack, which was carried out by an American Muslim with roots in Afghanistan.
“(We want) to support each other, to support the whole community,” Masri said outside the bullet-scarred club on a busy Orlando artery.
Jews Call for Unity With Muslims as Nation Reels From Massacre
Like Jewish leaders, Masri emphasized that suspected gunman Omar Mateen was an American who would not have been affected by proposals spearheaded by Donald Trump to bar Muslims from entering the U.S.
“He came from two hours away. You can’t put a border to stop someone like this,” Masri said, adding that he did not consider the gunman to be a Muslim.
Rep. Alan Grayson, the first Jewish congressman from central Florida, called the mass shooting a challenge for America to protect itself without discarding our basic constitutional values.
“We don’t engage in preventive detention here, that’s unconstitutional. We don’t engage in racial profiling or religious profiling – that’s unconstitutional,” Grayson said. “There’s not much to do except to watch people like that as closely as we can.”
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders led a chorus of Jewish political, religious and cultural leaders who expressed outrage at gun violence after the mass shooting that killed 50 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“All Americans are horrified, disgusted and saddened by the horrific” mass killing, Sanders said.
Jews Call for Unity With Muslims as Nation Reels From Massacre
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz planned to attend a Sunday night Miami gay pride event in solidarity with the victims.
“Like those before it, this mass shooting is senseless & horrifying,” she Tweeted.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his thoughts were with the victims.
“Horrified and saddened by the appalling attack at Orlando LGBT nightclub,” he Tweeted.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the attack another sign of the failure to curb gun violence.
“The staggering loss of life, yet again facilitated by a military-style weapon that has no place on the street, causes us deep pain,” Pesner wrote in a press release. “The attack is also further proof, as if any were needed, of the imperative to end the culture of gun violence that grips the nation.”
Lena Dunham took to Instagram to express solidarity with the gay community in Orlando — and speak out about gun violence.
“Our hearts break for the queer community in Orlando, unsafe even in a space they created for themselves,” she wrote. “Our hearts break for a country where this is what the news looks like day after day.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin offered condolences to the victims.
“On behalf of Israelis and the government of Israel, I wish to extend our sincerest condolences to the American people in the wake of the heinous attack on the LGBT community in Orlando last night,” the prime minister said in a statement.
In Tel Aviv, Mayor Ron Huldai ordered the city municipal building lit up in rainbow colors to express solidarity with the shooting victims.
In solidarity with #Orlando#TelAviv City Hall is lit up with the #USA flag and the flag of the #LGBTQ community pic.twitter.com/ULKR0BeR7N— Mayor of Tel Aviv (@MayorOfTelAviv) June 12, 2016
“(The attack) has all the markers of both an unconscionable hate crime and an act of terrorism on a scale we have not before witnessed in America,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
“This heinous attack on a nightclub serving the LGBTQ community is yet another reminder of the serious threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group, which has inspired attacks against Jews in Belgium, journalists in France, civilians in San Bernardino and now LGBTQ men and women in America.”
Greenblatt cautioned that “Americans should not blame all Muslims for the actions of one individual. Whether citizens like the individual suspected of committing this act or war-torn refugees seeking safety, we must remember that we do not define people by their faith. We are deeply concerned that this attack could lead to a backlash against American Muslims. We urge all Americans to not fight hatred with hatred, but rather to come together around our common values of decency and respect.”
B’nai B’rith International said in a statement that it is “shocked” by the attack, adding that: “The sheer number of dead (at least 50) and wounded (at least 53) defies comprehension.” The group said it “stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.”
On behalf of the Israeli-American community, we condemn this act of terrorism in the strongest terms. Whether terrorism strikes in Brussels, Paris, Tel Aviv, or Orlando – responsible leaders, policymakers, and moral people everywhere have a duty to speak out forcefully against this global evil, and to stand against the hateful ideology that fuels it. This is a growing danger that threatens innocents everywhere.
The Israeli-American Council said in a statement: “On behalf of the Israeli-American community, we condemn this act of terrorism in the strongest terms. Whether terrorism strikes in Brussels, Paris, Tel Aviv, or Orlando – responsible leaders, policymakers, and moral people everywhere have a duty to speak out forcefully against this global evil, and to stand against the hateful ideology that fuels it. This is a growing danger that threatens innocents everywhere.”
The National Council of Jewish Women condemned the mass shooting in a statement released Sunday evening. “We are all wounded by the fear engendered by gun attacks on civilians and by the menace of prejudice that too often endangers individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and threatens members of the Latino community,” the group’s statement said.
“NCJW is guided by Jewish values, including the Talmudic teaching that for ‘one who takes one life it is as though that person has destroyed the universe, and an individual who saves one life is as though that person has saved the universe.’ We must all renew our efforts to stop the epidemic of gun violence in this country.”—With JTA
This story "Orlando Jews Call for Unity With Muslims as Nation Reels From Massacre" was written by Nathan Guttman.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.