From Rabbi Tracy Klirs, Temple Kol Tikvah
Last weekend, on Shabbat morning, January 15th, as we were celebrating Shabbat Shira – the Sabbath of Song – with a beautiful, uplifting and very musical Shabbat service, none of us had any idea of the terrifying ordeal that was unfolding at the same time at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX. A terrorist gained access to the synagogue and held its rabbi and 3 congregants hostage for nearly 11 hours. Needless to say, the entire Jewish community, and, indeed, the entire world, heaved a huge sigh of relief when the captives were able to escape without being harmed physically.
The rabbi of the small Reform congregation, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, has emerged as a hero after several interviews revealed that not only remained calm during the entire ordeal, but he created a diversion that enabled him and his fellow captives to escape. Utilizing what he had learned from numerous security training sessions, Rabbi Cytron-Walker constantly engaged their captor in conversation to try to de-escalate the situation and possibly establish enough rapport to convince the terrorist to release him and the other hostages. Over the course of the day, the rabbi and other captives were able to inch closer to an exit, and when the opportunity presented itself, he yelled at the others to run, threw a chair at their captor, and all the hostages safely escaped.
It was hard not to draw parallels with Temple Kol Tikvah – both Beth Israel and Kol Tikvah are small, relatively new Reform congregations serving a town or suburb with a small Jewish population close to a larger metropolitan area. Both congregations have built interfaith relationships with other religious institutions in their neighborhoods and are deeply involved in the civic life and social justice activities of their towns, and, to a certain extent, serve as the “Jewish face” of their area. This attack felt personal. Who amongst us hasn’t thought, “That could have been us?”
How easy it would be to allow fear to overtake us, to react to this terrifying episode by retreating further into isolation and avoiding attending events at the Temple or participating in any public Jewish activities at all. But if we were to do that, the terrorists and antisemites of the world will have won. The only way to prevent that is for us to show up regularly for services and Temple activities – not just on Zoom, but in person. The only way to respond to acts of terror which intentionally target synagogues and Jews is to refuse to be intimidated, but to show up as proud Jews in Jewish spaces and identify as unafraid members of Am Yisrael – the Jewish people – in public spaces. To double down on our commitment to sustaining Jewish life, Jewish learning, Jewish worship and a Jewish presence here in the Lake Norman area. To answer, Hineini! – Here I am! – to the call from our synagogue, the Lake Norman Jewish Council, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, and other Jewish organizations both locally and nationally. Now is not the time to hide or to try to blend into the woodwork. Now is the time for each and every one of us to stand up and be counted.
Below is a letter we received from the UU fellowship of Lake Norman. Thank you to Reverend Pat Jobe and Jim Price for their beautiful and heartwarming words of solidarity and support.
Dear Rabbi Klirs,
Considering the recent attack in Texas on a Jewish Synagogue, we felt a need to reach out to you. Though we may have different beliefs, we have common values. Our congregation welcomes Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. We think there is, and should be, love enough for all.
The members of the UU Fellowship of Lake Norman stand with you in solidarity. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. As Dr. King said, “We are all free, or none of us is free.”
We are so sorry for the event and cannot imagine the consternation and grief Jews feel after a hate crime. The only counter to hate is Love; we have that in abundance and believe by sharing it, it grows. We may not know you personally, but we love you, nevertheless.
Warmest regards, and on behalf of the Board, the minister, and the congregation.
Reverend Pat Jobe
Jim Price, President
UU Fellowship of Lake Norman