Open doors, open hearts
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The first Shabbat after a Muslim terrorist took three congregants and Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker hostage, Jews in North Texas returned to synagogue in person and online. Numerous services focused on healing. Clergy delivered powerful sermons on the scourge of antisemitism and how to combat it, and people of all faiths demonstrated concern and solidarity.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, however, just wanted to study Torah. That is what comforted him and his congregants. His Torah study themes included love, peace and unity; a universal connection to God regardless of tradition; and having the heart and ability to embrace multiple perspectives.
“It’s so vitally important for us in our world. And it just feels so good to study some Torah with you this morning. On every level and, God willing, taking these words to heart. We will continue to find ways to heal. We will continue to find ways to have peace for us. For our community and, God willing, our nation and our world,” Cytron-Walker said.
In other Tarrant County synagogues, rabbis tried to make sense of what had happened and what to do about it.
“The question we really need to ask today is how do we, as a community, stand up,” said Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Congregation Ahavath Sholom, a Conservative shul in Fort Worth.
The remedy, the rabbi said, involves two things: Jewish pride and support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
“Judaism should not be the last way to describe yourself. It should be the first way that all of us describe ourselves, because we know a bully stands down when someone stands up. And the second way that we can ensure that the final solution does not come back even larger or even stronger, is being and supporting the state of Israel.”
In a down-to-earth sermon, Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Fort Worth’s Beth-El Congregation shared how difficult the week had been for him trying to make sense of what had happened to his good friend and colleague “Rabbi Charlie” and the other hostages.
Zimmerman said it gave him a modicum of insight into some of the struggles the Jews have experienced since the Exodus.
“We can’t forget how to live. We can’t live forever from behind walls that let no one in. We have to remember how to be the Jews we are asked to be — the leaders. The rabbi we are expected to be. We have to learn to move forward,” he said.
Dallas, Richardson and Plano
At Kabbalat Shabbat services, Anshai Torah Rabbi Michael Kushnick talked about the importance of returning stronger than ever following an attack. He urged people to make synagogue a place to gather for joy and connection.
“And now, after another attack on a synagogue, how do we respond? I’ll be honest, it feels good to be right here, right now. With you. This is the place that I belong. The place that we all belong. It’s okay if we have some fear but being present with one another is what allows us to move forward. Reengaging with Judaism and with synagogue is how we ensure that antisemitism does not win,” Kushnick said.
Congregation Shearith Israel hosted Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who shared some words of support for the Jewish community and unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism and hatred of any kind.
“Hate has no place in our city, in our region, in our state and in our world. We must work together to drive it out, and that’s why I formed my Anti-Hate Advisory Council in the first place. This must be a city that stands up against antisemitism and hate in all of its forms, and a city that stands for love,” he said.
Johnson was invited to the synagogue by Shearith member Sherry Goldberg, co-chair of the Mayor’s Anti-Hate Advisory Council as well as chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Community Security Initiative.
Johnson said that the Jewish community was one of the most resilient communities in Dallas and the assembled congregants were evidence of that.
“A week after that attack that shook the Jewish community here in North Texas, you weren’t scared away, even if it would’ve been understandable to do so. You’re not hiding. You’re all here. You’re all together. And you’re all celebrating life, together. That’s a story worth repeating, too.”
More than 100 guests of many faiths, as well as Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker and other city officials, attended Congregation Beth Torah’s Shabbat morning service to show solidarity and support in the wake of the Beth Israel incident. A group from The Dialogue Institute, Dallas, a nonprofit educational organization that promotes inclusiveness and understanding, brought a supportive banner: “To our Jewish friends, We at The Dialogue Institute, Dallas, stand with you, offer you our prayers and share our commitment to actively work to end hate! We deeply condemn antisemitism.”
Lynda Markowitz, a member at Beth Torah, said the congregation is grateful for the gesture as well as for those who came to take part in the service. “The banner will hang in our oneg room for a long time as a wonderful reminder of a meaningful day.”
At the service, Cheryl Drazin, Anti Defamation League Central Region vice president, and Joel Schwitzer, American Jewish Committee (AJC) regional director, each gave remarks related to the Colleyville attack. “Make no mistake about it, on Saturday the venue chosen was intentional. It was not a movie theater or a pizza parlor or a shopping mall. Violence in those places is horrific. It was a Jewish house of worship on our holy Sabbath – violence aimed at a synagogue is antisemitism,” said Drazin.
In addition to speaking on antisemitism, Schwitzer touched on the interfaith work that AJC does educating non-Jews about Judaism and Jews about other faiths and cultures. The support shown to the Jewish community by other faiths in the wake of the Colleyville hostage crisis has been steadfast and this has been built through outreach over the years by AJC as well as the ADL, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas Jewish Community Relations Council and others.
“Our Jewish community is continually strengthened because of the friendships we have built by engaging in meaningful ways with other communities. We are supported by our elected officials and by civil society. We can feel safe as Jews, we can double down on our Judaism,” Schwitzer said.
In her remarks, Rabbi Elana Zelony echoed the sentiment that Jews are resilient.
“There were many headlines this week involving the Jewish people. Do you know what was NOT a headline? ‘Hundreds of synagogues across the country close their doors because they are too terrified to hold services.’ Today, synagogues are open to celebrate b’nai mitzvah and aufrufs and, most of all, God’s holy day. Last week, one madman terrorized us by taking hostages in a shul on Shabbat. This week, our sanctuary is filled not only with congregants celebrating Shabbat, but also with hundreds of our friends and neighbors in the interfaith community who are here in solidarity. Jews are brave and thriving people surrounded by loving and supportive neighbors. It’s true antisemitism is a threat, but do you know what is also true? Am Yisrael Chai!
At Temple Shalom’s Shabbat service, Rabbi Andrew Paley, who was on-site at Congregation Beth Israel to lend support during the crisis, said: “We will not tire in our efforts to forge connections and collaborations with those who share a vision for a peaceful coexistence with others and, most importantly, we will never, ever waver from our belief that being rodef shalom, pursuers of peace, pursuers of a whole and complete world, is our calling and our mandate. Events of last week call upon us to rededicate ourselves to this cause, and I, for one, look forward to proudly joining with you in this effort as we work to defeat the darkness of the world.
“Let us so live, that our Judaism shines as a beacon for all for life, and for peace.”
At Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Debra Robbins and Cantor Vicki Glikin led a Shabbat evening service which focused on healing and included teachings from the Book of Exodus.
“It is an affirmation of hope and a gesture of gratitude, a defiance of hate and antisemitism, to cross the physical threshold of a synagogue, to cross the spiritual threshold of time at home, to continue to live Jewish life.
“We come together to give thanks for their survival, their patience and training, the skills of law enforcement and first responders, the heartfelt prayers and support from around the world.
“Shabbat is a time for healing. The Book of Exodus, which we read at this time of year, is an excellent guide. Tonight we will use these gifts of our tradition to bring light into a dark world, connect with each other, our history, our God, with words and music and silence.
“Together we will express grief and give voice to gratitude, offer prayers of hope and healing as we make the eternal journey to freedom and peace,” Robbins said.