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Yes, this was about the Jews

Don’t gaslight the Jews. We know exactly what happened in Colleyville.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller addresses reporters in a nearby parking lot after the conclusion of a SWAT operation at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 15, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. All four people taken hostage inside the synagogue during a morning service were safe that night after an hourslong standoff, authorities said. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

(RNS) — It had been a glorious Shabbat at our synagogue, Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, Florida. We began with our service in honor of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which we shared with community leaders and members of the Historic Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. On Shabbat morning, we studied Torah together, finding new meaning in the haftarah story of Deborah. A young man celebrated becoming bar mitzvah in the presence of his family and our community, teaching us about the Jewish sources of empathy.

Then came the news about the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in which a gunman took the rabbi and several congregants as hostages. It was an 11-hour ordeal, which ended with the escape of the hostages and the killing of the invader. We utter profound words of gratitude to the police and hostage rescue team, who helped turn what might have been a horror into a moment of redemption. 

What words kept going through my mind and soul during those tense hours — glued to CNN and MSNBC, my phone lighting up with anxious texts from friends and colleagues? 

Precisely the words that West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James had shared with us at the service the previous evening — Dr. King’s words from the Birmingham Jail: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

”We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” We Reform Jews felt this acutely, as Congregation Beth Israel is a Reform congregation. Its rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, handled himself and the situation with immeasurable grace, clarity and courage, doubtless saving his own life and the lives of his people. There was no class on this in rabbinical school; none of us should ever have needed to learn such a skill. 

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” The special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas Field Office, Matthew DeSarno, made this statement:

“We do believe from our engagement with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community, but we are continuing to work to find the motive.”

With all due respect, sir, and with all due respect and profound gratitude to your colleagues for their help during the crisis: no.

Take it from me; take it from us; take it from Jewish history — even and especially contemporary Jewish history that is barely history: This was an antisemitic attack. It was an assault against a synagogue, on Shabbat, during services. 

The gunman had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who had been convicted in 2010 of attempted murder of American soldiers and officials in Afghanistan. Her nickname is “Lady Al Qaeda.” During her trial, she made vile antisemitic remarks, demanding there be no Israelis or Zionists on the jury. 

Let there be no doubt: The gunman was aiming at not only Jews, but at the Jews.

  • As Charlottesville, Virginia, was a (verbal) attack on the Jews, so was Colleyville.
  • As the deadly attack on Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh was an attack on the Jews, so was Colleyville.
  • As the deadly attack on Chabad in Poway, California, was an attack on the Jews, so was Colleyville. 
  • As the deadly attack on the kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, was an attack on the Jews, so was Colleyville.
  • As the deadly machete attack on the rabbi during a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, was an attack on the Jews, so was Colleyville.

Let no one try to gaslight us. Let us not gaslight ourselves. We Jews know Jew hatred when we see it, and when we feel it, and when we experience it. 

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” I felt that network, that sacred web, in hearing and reading the prayers of my non-Jewish friends and colleagues — especially my Muslim friends and colleagues.

This is what I said to the family at the bar mitzvah service, even before we knew what was happening in Texas. “At a time when the world seems to be in chaos, know that we can cling to our tradition, and it will always be there for us, giving us security and safety.”

We thank God the hostages are free and safe.

We thank God, as well, for the safety and security and support we offer each other — in the best of times, and in the worst of times.