“I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”
Those are the words of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, whose calm demeanor, strong resolve, and actions saved him and the other hostages in their escape after the 11-hour hostage standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.
Like many of us, I am still processing what happened this past Shabbat on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, but I am relieved and grateful that the four hostages made it out alive. We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community around the world.
There is no doubt that Saturday’s attack was fueled by antisemitism. Religiously and racially motivated attacks are not new, but they are on the rise in an ever-alarming way. From Pittsburgh and Poway to Monsey, Jersey City, Colleyville, and so many others here and around the world, we are reminded over and over that our safety is not guaranteed. There were 2,024 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism targeting Jewish people across the US in 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the third highest year since data has been collected. This latest threat has left us all shaken, but not surprised. Safety is a privilege that Jews know has never been guaranteed, but we also know we will not achieve it in isolation.
We are so grateful for the communities that have condemned this latest antisemitic attack. On Saturday night in the midst of the hostage stand-off, I was on a call with other faith and Jewish communal leaders, organized and led by Adam McKinney, to process and hold one another close. In addition to our Jewish community, leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and other traditions, offered their sorrow and support on the call including Pardeep Singh Kaleka, whose father was killed by a white supremacist in the attack on a Milwaukee Sikh Temple in 2012. At that moment, we were reminded that standing together is the only way forward. As Rabbi Cytron-Walker expressed, we are grateful for this “human community.”
It is through our work for justice together with other movements that we become stronger than antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, and violence. Those are sentiments that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached and sentiments we remember and hold dear on what would have been his 93rd birthday.
When the click of the gun was heard by Rabbi Cytron-Walker, his congregation was standing for the Amidah – the core prayer of every service. The prayer is traditionally broken into three parts and connects us to our ancestors, praises the divinity of lovingkindness, expresses thankfulness, and asks the divine to bless us and keep us – to open our hearts, hold our tongues, and practice humility so that we may do mitzvot. As we heal from this, may we keep our hearts open and act justly to protect and defend all in our Jewish community – and in our human community.
With deep gratitude, an open heart, and in solidarity,