On Saturday night, as we waited anxiously to hear news from Colleyville, Texas, hoping and praying for the safe release of the hostages held in the synagogue, many of us turned to the Internet to connect with others to share our pain and fear. I participated in three different Zoom gatherings that evening, singing quiet songs of hope, expressing words of faith, and sharing our fears for the future.
These gatherings provided a sense of strength and hope, and our hopes were fulfilled with the welcome news of the safe release of the hostages.
There is a blessing that we say upon hearing good news: Baruch Hatov v’Hamayteev, Praised is God who is good and does good. I said that blessing with great relief upon hearing the good news.
But, as Jews we believe that whatever good God might plan for the world, it must be performed by human beings inspired to do the good. So, this expression of praise should go first to the people who brought this crisis to an end.
The courageous and wise actions of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and the other hostages were exemplary as they, in many senses, secured their own release. The training that they had for emergency situations like these quite possibly saved their lives and this is a reminder to all of us of the importance of such training.
But, credit also certainly must go to first responders, law enforcement, and FBI hostage negotiator team whose bravery and expertise were so evident. I believe that the prayers of so many helped in some way we may not completely understand but this was a human drama that demanded a human response, and that response came.
In the days since this horrific act, two thoughts have repeatedly come to my mind.
First, there is no doubt that anti-Semitism is increasing in this nation and that this should be a matter of grave concern for every Jew and every person of good will. We must take even greater steps to educate ourselves, and to protect ourselves and our institutions than we have already done. In addition, we must demand that our elected officials and public figures make statements and take actions to fight this terrible plague of bigotry. We must also make it clear to those who take public positions against persecution that anti-Semitism is real and it is dangerous and that the Jewish community must be recognized as among those whose members and whose institutions are endangered by hatred.
But, as we recognize this need, we should also recognize the fact that we are truly privileged to live in a nation in which attacks against Jews, when, God forbid, they happen, are treated with the utmost seriousness. The massive response of law enforcement to this hostage situation reminds us that we are regarded as equal citizens in this great nation.
While we justifiably fear anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, we also must recognize the blessing that this nation provides for us, and we must take comfort in the support we receive throughout this country.
And that is the second point. Each of the online groups I participated in on Saturday evening included people of many different faiths and backgrounds. The prayers and hopes were not coming exclusively from the Jewish community. People of all faiths were standing with us as we faced this crisis just as we, as Jews, have stood with those of other faiths when their communities were the target of attacks.
This is what this country should always stand for.
I have never met Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker but, as we all heard repeatedly on Saturday, he is passionate about building relationships with those of other faiths and those relationships were reflected in the members of his local community who were present and public in their deep and sincere concern.
But, many rabbis and other Jewish leaders throughout this country have that same commitment to interfaith relationships and, again, this was reflected in the way that those of other faiths around the country expressed their concern and solidarity with our people at our time of crisis.
It was a reflection of the best that this nation can be.
On Sunday, I was scheduled to teach a session of a course at a local church. I was invited to teach the class by friends with whom I have worked in the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County for many years. The relationships that I have with my colleagues of other faiths have been one of the most important aspects of my rabbinate. I was glad to accept the invitation and have looked forward to teaching this course for months.
But, even after hearing of the resolution of the situation in Texas, I wondered how I would, in fact, be able to teach the class given the emotions of the previous day. How could I gather my thoughts to teach a class on Jewish Biblical interpretation in light of what had occurred?
But I realized that it was critical not only to fulfill my responsibility but to take advantage of the opportunity to say and to demonstrate something very important.
So, I preceded my class with some thoughts on the news of the previous day and stressed the fact that by reaching beyond our own boundaries and building bridges with others, we not only develop a support system when a crisis occurs but also make the strongest statement we can against persecution and bigotry. It is when we get to know those of other communities that we can understand them and their joys and fears more deeply and will find it easier to identify with them at good times and bad.
So, even as we express and act on our justifiable fears about the rise in anti-Semitism, let us never forget two critical facts.
First, we live in a nation in which people of good will and the institutions of our communities are there to support and stand with us as we face these threats.
And, secondly, as Rabbi Cytron-Walker and so many other rabbis and Jews in general demonstate, the building of relationships with those of other faiths is a critical expression of what it means to live in a country of freedom. Those relationships are critical for all of us, and we must continue to reach beyond the walls of our synagogues to form friendships and express and mutual commitments of support.
Those relationships become even more critical in light of these dangerous times.