We get up every morning, God willing, and follow a general plan for the day. We think about our obligations at work. We figure out the needs of our family members. We have to pick up dinner, or bring someone to the doctor’s office or wait for the appliance guy, or whatever. It’s how life rolls, with the assumption that an errant asteroid won’t slam into Earth. Or that a volcano somewhere in the middle of nowhere that no one has ever heard of won’t erupt and cause a tsunami a thousand miles away.
If we were to consider any number of potential calamities befalling us every time we left our homes, we would end up crushed by enormous fear. This is why we live from minute to minute believing that every little thing will be alright. We have to make assumptions along the way.
So when something does happen, something so outrageous and frightening and seemingly impossible, it shakes us up, rattles us to the very core of our being. It forces us to consider the randomness of evil and its malignant power. Those “there but for the grace of God go I” experiences are sobering.
Neither the folks gathered at the Beth Israel Congregation yesterday for Shabbat services nor those who were tuned in via Facebook or Zoom had any reason to imagine a violent, deranged man would take hostages at their shul to make a political statement about a jailed terrorist named Aafia Siddiqui. But the unthinkable did indeed occur.
A small community of American Jews living between Dallas and Ft. Worth, who never even heard of Aafia Siddiqui, ended up connected to her incarceration in the twisted logic of the hostage-taker, Malik Faisal Akram. It seems preposterous that this man would target Jews in Colleyville, Texas because Beth Israel was the closest synagogue to DFW Airport. But that’s how he found them.
I had just come home from a wedding last night when I got texts from two people. My sister, Marta, who lives in Austin, Texas, and who, for years, sang at Beth Israel for High Holy Days, wanted to let me know. And I heard from my dear friend, Anna Eisen, a founder of Beth Israel who along with her husband, David, helped build the synagogue. They were not among the hostages. But Anna could’ve been there. And, I suppose, any one of us could’ve been there.
I considered the number of people – people I knew – who had once belonged to the synagogue where I served in Arlington, TX, and were now members of Beth Israel. I might know the hostages. I knew the rabbi, a kind and compassionate leader who courageously upheld progressive Jewish values in the buckle of the Bible Belt. As I watched CNN’s coverage, I suddenly realized that the tsunami from this terrorist act had arrived at my front door.
This event is another reminder of the prevalence of antisemitism and the hate and brutality it inspires. It forces us to consider the bleakness of our world. We are, of course, rattled by this incident. We don’t know nearly enough to begin analyzing what happened and how. But we will learn from this incident and incorporate whatever facts that emerge into our already vigilant security procedures. Living in a free country, where the doors of our temples are open to all, is a risk. But barring the doors, requiring reservations, searching anyone who enters is an even greater risk.
We are all deeply thankful and so relieved that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and the other hostages emerged unharmed. We are beholden to the folks who set them free. On this Martin Luther King Day weekend, it’s worth imagining what he would have us say about Beth Israel in Colleyville: It is dangerous to proclaim freedom throughout the land. It is true that there are those who despise us simply because we are Jewish. But no act of terror will cause us to back down and hide. We will not diminish our commitment to our tradition and our history and our culture – and our future. We shall overcome.