January 18, 2022

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about the power and beauty of Shabbat in his classic work The Sabbath. In it, he described Shabbat as a sanctuary of time, a place to experience holiness, and a place to feel at peace. 


This Shabbat… that peace was shattered, once again, when four people were taken hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX. And like similar events before it, along with the well-documented recent significant increase of antisemitism, the feeling of safety and peacefulness for Jews has been shaken to our very core. 


As additional details have emerged, new insights and perspectives have been shared. I cannot begin to imagine what it must have felt like for the Jewish community to come together as it did, as other religious groups joined with them for a service of healing and comfort last night. The emotions, the trepidation, the lack of being able to comprehend how someone could do what they did, in a place that so many feel a sense of comfort, and many other emotions must have been flowing through them. In fact, for many of us here, I am sure we have similar thoughts, feelings, and questions.


None of us can ever be ready to be confronted with a situation like this. And yet, very sadly, this is not the first, nor will it be the last time, we are confronted by this.


Because of these kinds of incidents, whether it be an active shooter attack or in this case, a hostage situation, the Jewish community is dealing with things that we should never have to deal with. And yet, it has become the new normal, and rather than just decry it, we need to make sure we are all as prepared for it as we can be. As was illustrated on Saturday, this can happen anywhere. 


It is for this reason that last April, as signs were pointing to a return to in-person activities, that the Jewish Federation coordinated a Community-wide Security Training. We did this in partnership with Secure Community Network. In fact, it was the same training that Rabbi Cytron-Walker attributed to his and the other three hostages’ survival during the entire ordeal. 


I would encourage you to spend some time over the next few days to watch and learn from the training. As we just witnessed, it can make all of the difference. (Click here to watch the training) During one of his many interviews, Rabbi Cytron-Walker said, “The sessions (security training) taught me that if you get in this situation, you have to do whatever you can. It gave me the courage and the sensibility to act when we were able.”


Although security has become such an integral part of the Jewish community since the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018, including making sure that organizations build in the expenses into yearly budgets, it is time once again to revisit the security of our community institutions. However, in order for security to truly work well, we need not only the vast majority of the community to embrace it, but also make sure that as many people are trained in security as possible.


Please understand that I am not saying that we should be okay with any of this because I am not. No one should ever feel unsafe when they set foot in the sanctuary of a religious institution. (One of the meanings of sanctuary is a place of refuge and protection.) However, the reality is that Jews and other minorities will continue to be targets of all forms of hatred. We need to be realistic and honest with ourselves and each other that this can, and most likely, will happen again. And so, what we must do is make ourselves as prepared as we can, while at the same time denouncing in our harshest words and deeds.


I commit to you that the Jewish Federation will continue to work, not only with our community partners but also with our local law enforcement and the ADL (and other organizations), to make sure we continue to provide the tools and resources that can help make all of us and our community institutions as safe as we can be.


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