Peace in Martin Place

December 19, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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Rabbi Levi Wolff and Rabbi Zalman Kastel joined other religious leaders in Martin Place in an act of togetherness centering around Ken Johnson, the father of Tori Johnson who was brutally murdered during the Martin Place siege.

A multi-faith peace sign     Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

A multi-faith peace sign Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

It is believed that the 34-year-old Tori Johnson, manager of the Lindt Cafe, was shot by Man Haron Monis who  held 17 people hostage in the CBD coffee shop for 16 hours before police stormed the building and killed Moris. Mother of three  Katrina Dawson also fell victim to the siege. Johnson is reported as having tried to wrest the gun from Moris’s hand.

Last night, as Sydney’s CBD showed signs of returning to normalcy, Martin Place remained a sea of flowers and Ken Johnson was introduced by phone to the first person to lay a floral tribute at the scene of the siege.

For Rabbi Wolff and his wife Rebbetzin Chani Wolff, it was a poignant moment as the Central Synagogue’s spiritual leader put his hands on Johnson’s shoulders and recited the priestly blessing.

Ken Johnsopn hugs Rabbi Levi Wolff   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Ken Johnson hugs Rabbi Levi Wolff       Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Apart from Rabbis Wolff and Kastel,  Imam Wesam Charkawi from Auburn, Ramu, a Hindu priest and the Uniting Church’s the Reverend Bill Crewes were on hand to offer comfort to the grieving father and Tori’s sister Rada.

But for Ken Johnson it was a moment of togetherness at which he wanted to demonstrate a unity between all people as he and his daughter Rada were joined by the religious leaders in raising their hands showing the huge crowd around the perimeter of the floral tributes the familiar two finger sign for peace.

The well-known landscape artist who spends a large part of the year in India was also comforted by Rama, the Hindu religious leader from Holdsworthy in Sydney who recited prayers in Sanskrit.

Ken Johnson told J-Wire: “We’re a good family and a strong family. Our grief is momentary. My son – his love was immense, but his bravery was immeasurable.”

To the people of Sydney he said: “Keep it rolling. Get rid of the cars and fill the streets with flowers. I will do my best to honour my son’s bravery.”

Rabbi Levi  Wolff invokes the priestly blessing   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Rabbi Levi Wolff invokes the priestly blessing Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

He told media that he wanted to meet the person who placed the first floral tribute in Martin Place. Twenty minutes later he was speaking to her on a mobile phone. Katherine Chee worked at the Lindt coffee shop with Tori Johnson and was about to start work at 11. Suzannah Bluwol, a friend of Chee’s told J-Wire: “She came to work early that day and was a very good friend of Tori’s. She wanted to place a bunch of white roses and the site and got special permission to do so.”

A grief-stricken Rada Johnson, Tori's sister  Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

A grief-stricken Rada Johnson, Tori’s sister                        Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Rabbi Wolff presented Ken Johnson with a Yahrzeit candle which burns for the seven days of the Jewish initial mourning period. Rabbi Wolff told J-Wire: “I gave him the candle on behalf of the Jewish community. I told him that a soul is referred to as the candle of G-d Ken Johnson is a very spiritual man and he was able to relate to this. I told him that the nature of a candle’s flame is that it is always looking to go upwards as humanity does. We always want to reach higher places throughout life. The heroic act of his son Tori has put him at a level higher than any candle can reach. I told him that one candle can give light to thousands of other candles without losing any of its own. I told him that Tori is one of G-d’s tallest candles and that he has lit up a nation with his brave act.”

Ken Johnson receives his Yahrzeit candle  Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Ken Johnson receives his Yahrzeit candle Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Rabbi Wolff added: “While we came here to give Ken Johnson strength I feel I have gained strength because he is very engaged in how he has reacted to this terrible crime. He  is not wallowing in misery and bitterness…on the contrary he has taken this opportunity to ensure that this murderous act has not just put an end to his son’s life but it is going to inspire other people’s lives. Ken Johnson is trying to bring love to this world and he is trying to foster peace amongst different religions.”

Ken Johnson talks to Katherine Chee    Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Ken Johnson talks to Katherine Chee Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Ken Johnson told Rabbi Levi Wolff that he had not found it within himself to smile until today. He had not slept for four days. Rabbi Wolff told J-Wire: “He told him that having religious leaders around him had given him a sense of comfort and a level of happiness.”

Rabbi Zalman Kastel told J-Wire that he had organised some of the religious leaders. “Ken Johnson contacted me and asked me to organise men ‘in religious garb’. I called the appropriate people including Rama, the Hindu priest in Liverpool. He rode pillion on his son’s motorbike to get to Martin Place on time. Mr Johnson told me he wanted to make statement for world peace by having all religions unite.”

Johnson was visibly overwhelmed as he walked around the perimeter of the tributes. He was given gifts and people just wanted to touch him and offer him their heartfelt condolences. But a special moment for him was when he met a woman who put him in touch by mobile phone with Katherine Chee who placed the first floral tribute to honour the memory of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson.