ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו חי העולמים מתיר אסורים.
Barukh atah adonay eloheynu hay ha’olamim matir asurim.
Blessed are you, THE REDEEMER, our God, Life of all the worlds, who frees the captives.
– From the morning liturgy
What a terrible irony that on Shabbat Shirah, as Jews around the world read about the Israelites’ liberation from slavery, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other people were held hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas in a standoff that lasted more than 11 hours.
We breathe a sigh of relief that all the hostages were freed and are physically safe. We have tremendous gratitude for the myriad law enforcement officials who worked tirelessly and courageously toward this end, and to religious leaders and laypeople from all traditions, especially many local and national Muslim leaders, who expressed their concern and solidarity throughout this ordeal. They brought to life the teaching of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of [all people].”
The Jewish community of Colleyville, and Jews across the state of Texas and, indeed, across the United States, did not stand alone throughout the long and agonizing day.
We must not give in to despair. We can draw on millennia of Jewish wisdom and practice to build our resilience and discern our path forward.
There are actions we can take.
- We can be vigilant in ensuring that our own synagogues, and all the places we gather, are as secure as they can be – while remaining open and welcoming to all of those who come to find community in study, prayer and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). This is a difficult balance, but there is both justice and holiness in pursuing it.
- We can offer ongoing support and blessings to the freed hostages, their loved ones, and the Congregation Beth Israel community in the weeks and months ahead. We can acknowledge the impact of widespread personal and communal trauma and can adopt trauma-informed practices and policies.
- We can emulate Rabbi Cytron-Walker’s lead and engage in robust interfaith and coalition-building efforts to deepen relationships and cultivate empathy and understanding—in ourselves and in others.
- We can build vibrant Jewish communities that powerfully demonstrate why we are Jewish and that offer us—and the next generation—comfort and meaning in the most difficult times.
- We can define ourselves as Jews and as human beings by our highest values and our virtuous living rather than let ourselves be defined by those who malign or even physically attack us.
- We can lobby members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee to confirm Dr. Deborah Lipstadt’s nomination as US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, which has stalled in the Senate.
- We can work on voter protection initiatives, both local and national, that will safeguard democratic norms, including freedom of worship and protection of minorities.
This past Shabbat, we read of the Israelites beginning their journey through the desert. In Deuteronomy 30:19, at the very end of their long sojourn, we read that God says to the Israelites: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses… that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” We have long known that there are people who are willing to kill for what they believe, who are ready to kill us. It is ever more clear that now is the time for us to fully embrace how we want to live for what we believe.
May we stay safe, may we be strong and of good courage, may we find community and connection and live lives of meaning, may we work for safety and justice for all peoples. The leadership and staff of Reconstructing Judaism will do everything we can toward these ends. Thriving Communities will be sending out a message with various resources to staff, clergy, and key lay leaders at all of our affiliates and Ritualwell offers resources of comfort to all.
Sending love and strength and blessings of peace—
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., President and CEO of Reconstructing Judaism
Seth Rosen, Chair, Reconstructing Judaism Board of Governors