SYDNEY – On Monday night a crane was supposed to erect the giant public menorah that has graced Sydney’s Martin Place every Hanukkah for more than two decades.
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Instead, Martin Place was in lockdown after a dramatic hostage crisis unfolded earlier that day, which eventually claimed the lives of two victims as well as the lone gunman. A hail of gunfire erupted around 2 A.M. after Man Maron Monis, a 50-year-old self-styled sheikh, had held up to 20 Australians hostage in a 16-hour siege.
On Tuesday there was still an exclusion zone around the Lindt café, surrounded by a sea of floral tributes to the two victims, barrister Katrina Dawson and café manager Tori Johnson.
Amid the flowers was one small menorah placed by Levi Wolff, the rabbi of Sydney’s largest synagogue. “The Jewish community of Australia expresses our deepest sympathy for the families of the Martin Place tragedy,” read the message. “May the light of the festival of Hanukkah bring comfort and warmth to our nation.”
He told Haaretz on Tuesday: “It was deeply moving and very emotional. People of all races, colors and religions came together and are deeply committed not to allow [the crisis] to dampen the Australian spirit of mateship and friendship.”
That night, just two blocks from the crime scene in downtown Sydney, Rabbi Wolff led a memorial service followed by a public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at a Westfield mall.
“We hope the positive energy we are bringing into this room will help bring light, warmth, and comfort to a nation that has never experienced darkness on levels like this before,” he said.
Rabbi Elimelech Levy, from Chabad Youth of New South Wales, told Haaretz he hoped the giant menorah would be erected in Martin Place in time for Thursday’s public candle-lighting.
“We haven’t cancelled it [and] we are waiting to hear back from authorities,” he said. “We’d like it to go ahead, and to pay tribute to the victims of terror."
Added Levy: “If we cancel the event we are giving terrorist exactly what they want. We want to do it compassionately for the victims.”
Jewish community schools and institutions went into lockdown on Monday as the siege unfolded, with community security officials raising the terror-threat level.
The gunman was identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian cleric out on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. He was also facing more than 50 charges of sexual and indecent assault, and was convicted of sending abusive letters to families of deceased Australian soldiers, including one Jewish family.
In 2009, Monis wrote to the family of Greg Sher: “A Jewish man who kills innocent Muslims civilians is not a pig; he is a thousand times worse.”
Greg Sher’s father Felix said at the time: “We have received over 1,200 letters, emails and cards plus countless phone calls The sheikh’s letter is the only one of an anti-Semitic nature.”
Added Sher: “I am so disappointed that anyone can behave like this and it is time to correct the wrong. If he does not like the Australian way of life, then he should return home.”
With respect to the hostage incident on Tuesday, Dr. Danny Lamm, of the Zionist Federation of Australia, expressed his “abject horror and sorrow,” describing it as a “crazed and destructive act of terror on innocent Australian civilians.”
He said he welcomed Muslim leaders who condemned the crime. “Whether or not Monis acted with the intent of representing ISIS or any other terrorist group, he was obviously inspired or driven by his Islamic fundamentalist beliefs, as evidenced by his attire and the flag he displayed during the siege,” Lamm said. “The dangers of extremist Islamic fundamentalism are a real and unfortunate threat to our otherwise safe and tolerant society.”
Michael Danby, a Jewish MP, told Haaretz: “This deranged jihadist won’t change Australia’s bipartisan opposition to ISIS. Australians remain both tolerant and willing to fight intolerant and aggressive ideologies.”
Robert Goot, president of the executive Council of Australian Jewry, described the incident as a “heinous crime.”
“The perpetrator of the crime was a lone disturbed individual with a criminal history who cloaked his personal grievances in Islam and Islamist ideology,” Goot said. “His evil actions must not be allowed to sow discord in our tolerant, multicultural society, or to weaken the resolve of our government to fight those who seek to inflict terror on innocent people at home and abroad.”
Dr. Colin Rubenstein and Mark Leibler, of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said in a joint statement: “Terrorism and violent extremism, in all their ugly and threatening manifestations, must be fought with all due seriousness – using legal, political, diplomatic, cultural, intelligence and, where necessary, military means – if we are to maintain Australia’s harmonious and cohesive society.”
For his part, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Tuesday, sending his condolences to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. “International Islamic terrorism knows no borders; therefore, the struggle against it must be global,” Netanyahu said.