This past Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, rabbis and congregants across the globe gathered in our respective congregations to celebrate the day of rest and give thanks to God for bequeathing us this sacred time. Our time together reminds us of our humanity and that we are all tenants in God’s world.
Shabbat morning is particularly precious when a 13-year-old is reciting in the original Hebrew before the congregation and discussing the meaning of portions of Scripture. It’s part of the process of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah — a son or daughter of the Mitzvah, or sacred commandment.
We had one such ceremony on Saturday, and the congregation was in great spirits. It was a great day for us and for the family.
But the Shabbat in Colleyville, Texas, was a time of terror. Later Saturday, as we learned of the hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in a suburb of Dallas — a man had taken four people hostage during Sabbath services — our jubilation turned to worry and fear for another synagogue that had become a victim of terrorism.
At 11:23 p.m. Saturday, I received a text from a cherished friend who lived for years in Colleyville,Texas, and knew many at Beth Israel congregation. I had spoken with her earlier, and she let me know that my prayers must have been answered because all the hostages were free.
With relief in my heart and gratitude to God, the last prayer I recited that night was the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Here Oh Israel the Eternal Our God, the Eternal is One.”
Yet there was one other prayer the hostages, under the leadership of their heroic rabbi, might have recited: the special prayer we say when we escape from danger.
“Blessed are You, Eternal Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has bestowed every kindness upon us.” When an individual recites this prayer in worship services, the congregation responds: “Amen. May the One who bestowed goodness upon us continue to bestow goodness upon us forever.”
Reciting blessings and quoting the inspirational literature of the Psalms are part of what congregations and rabbis are doing around the country because the hostages in Colleyville are safe. The terrorist is dead. Now we are left to make sense of what has occurred.
We are always left with questions after one of these attacks. Why do people do this to others who have nothing to do with their anger and rage? What leads them to commit such abhorrent acts?
When will the killing stop? When will hate cease to be the most powerful opioid since creation? When will synagogues across America — and the rest of the world — no longer need to hire armed security to protect Jewish people while they worship in their synagogues?
How can we live with the possibility, however remote, that our synagogue will be the next target of terror from a crazed extremist?
Perhaps the answers are not so much tactical as moral and spiritual challenges to the soul of my people. We have had to live with this chronic illness of violence and terrorism, both domestic and foreign, from generation to generation. We persevere and move on with our lives, yet the scars are there in body and soul.
The Jews are not the only houses of worship that are victims of terrorist attacks. We’ve seen violence against churches with white and African American congregants in America. We’ve also seen violence against houses of worship in the Sikh tradition and other non-western religions, which join the Jewish community in this pandemic of hatred.
What has been heartwarming has been the texts, emails and online posts of support from friends and colleagues in Hilton Head and throughout the region. Their support and compassion for the Jewish people make a difference during these difficult times.
I gain strength from my own tradition. I will not let terrorists define me or how I live my life. l will not let the fear that they effectively create for me or my people overwhelm us and impede our determination to carry on with the joys, the blessings and services which we celebrate each Shabbat in our houses of worship.
We live with two conflicting emotions: love of God and faith in our community alongside fear that someone out there hates who we are and what we stand for.
Anti-semitism is not just a word that describes old-fashioned Jew hatred. It is a reality of life, just as much as the blessings of God’s world and the gift of life that God gives us all.
I enjoin us to pray for a better world. “Pray” as the Psalmist said, “for the peace of the City of Peace:
May those who love you find repose.
May there be peace in your palace,
Respite in your ramparts.
For the sake of my brothers, sisters, my friends,
Let me say: Peace within you.
For the sake of the House of the Eternal Our God,
Let me seek your good” (Psalm 122:6-9).
Pray as if everything depended upon God. Act as if everything depended upon us.