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The Blessing of Being a Blessing: Taking Action as Sacred Response

01/18/2022 01:04:33 PM


Rabbi Rudin

The Blessing of Being a Blessing: Taking Action as Sacred Response

By Rabbi Moshe Rudin


This is my personal take… not that of Adath Shalom or anyone else… thanks!


      Dedicated to the Rabbi and members of the Kehila Kedosha, the Holy Congregation of Beth Israel, Colleyville, Texas

This past Shabbat found us torn from the repose and energy of the day of rest and spiritual refreshment into the maelstrom of Jew-hate and violence against the Jewish community.

Thank G-d, Rabbi Charlie and the congregants held hostage were able to seize their moment and escape.  The FBI and law enforcement’s intervention, and the negotiating team that was able to help contain and de-escalate the situation were also essential in resolving the crisis, securing the building and neutralizing the terrorist.  Finally, the prayers of Jewish communities and people of good will across the country, Israel and the world focused love, support and strength.  I am personally grateful to members of Adath Shalom who joined us for a short Zoom vigil.

While I am sure that in the coming days and weeks, we will learn much more about the circumstances and glean lessons, there are already, it seems to me, features of the crisis that demand our attention and action. 

  • As egregious as it seems, both the FBI and some media failed to make any mention of anti-Semitism when describing this act of violence.  Claiming that the attacker’s motivations had nothing to do with the Jewish community or the fact that Beth Israel was a synagogue is an act of dangerous erasure.  We must make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was an act of Jew-hatred motivated by the pernicious conspiracies and stereotypes all too prevalent about us and our community.  We cannot allow the facts to be ignored, distorted or explained away.  Anti-Semitism is strong and growing stronger.  Pretending that it isn’t is dangerous to every Jewish American and to our country overall. 

  • With all due respect to the dedicated work of law enforcement, the escape of the hostages was an act of personal empowerment and refusal to submit, certainly aided by the support of the hostage negotiation team and law enforcement surrounding the building.  But ultimately, it was the hostages themselves, led by the personal heroism of the Rabbi, which won the day.  By the accounts that were shared, as the terrorist grew more agitated and likely to resort to deadly violence, Rabbi Charlie saw his chance and threw a chair at the attacker.  The momentary distraction gave the hostages their opportunity to burst through the side exit. 

  • As Rabbi Cytron-Walker and others have said, the survival of the hostages had everything to do with preparation, training drills, protocols developed and honed through action.  This should be a clear and unambiguous signal to every Jewish institution to do the same.  Relying on cameras, locked doors or the occasional presence of a security guard or police is not enough.   While the Covid crisis overrode our focus on the attacks on American synagogues, the Jewish communities in Pittsburgh, Poway, synagogue burnings and hundreds of assaults on individual Jews, the same bad actors who were there before Covid are still there. We must be proactive and continue to grow our ability to ensure the safety of our community. 

Finally, in a larger sense, our American society and the Jewish community must take a hard look at ourselves.  In Europe, we see synagogues surrounded by machine-gun wielding police, metal detectors, screening of visitors and generally the conduct of Jewish life behind barriers.  Rather than going after the haters and making it clear through every means- education, legal action, advocacy and intervention-  that incitement and acts of violence against the Jews and the Jewish community is unacceptable and bears grave consequences, the European countries have given in to the inevitability of hostility and violence and placed their Jewish communities behind barricades.  It is the haters that should be the ones behind barricades, not Jews peacefully seeking to live their faith and engage in communal life.  

Is this what we want for our country, the first country in the world to grant equality to Jews, a beacon of liberty and tolerance to the world?  According to the American Jewish Committee’s 2021 report, one in four American Jews have been a victim of anti-Semitism in the past year and still the discussion about whether Jew-hate is a problem drags on in media, online and in many places in the American discourse.

 Currently, even the simple step of the appointment of U.S. State Department Global Envoy to combat anti-Semitism is bogged down in the Senate.  During the Holocaust, there was not one but two international conferences to try to address Jew hate, one in Evian, France in 1938 and the other in Bermuda in 1943.  Both conferences were utter failures.  Endless debates and gabfests exacerbate the crisis with tragic outcomes.

Each of us has a role to play in disrupting, challenging and overcoming Jew hate.  From school boards to town councils, classrooms to houses of worship, online hate-chats, media bias, university classrooms, student governments and faculty associations, social action causes, entertainment and celebrity culture have all become forums for anti-Semitism.  

At the same time, we see a degrading and ongoing threats to American democracy.  The co-occurence of skyrocketing Jew-hate and the rise of undemocratic forces are not accidental.  They are both expressions of the same ascendant repressive and conspiracy-driven social forces that threaten to derail our country and world.  

Both as individuals and as a community it is incumbent on us to become involved.  Town council meetings are long.  Boards of education, library boards and community advocacy is demanding and sometimes not terribly enjoyable.  But they are the democratic institutions that must be strengthened and nurtured.

The two missions- to oppose anti-Semitism and to strengthen democracy are one.  Adopting the International Holocaust Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism which correctly identifies demonizing Israel and Zionism with anti-Semitism can help expose the false cover that anti-Semites frequently employ to justify their racism.  Active involvement with human relations committees and interfaith associations can forge dialogues and relationships based on respect and truth replacing false narratives.  

But this mission is too big and too important to be entrusted to Jewish and community professionals alone. Justice Brandeis said it straight: “the most important political office is that of private citizen.”  Engaging with our community is a challenge, but also an opportunity for personal growth and fulfillment. 

At the same time, we must continue to strengthen, nurture and build our Jewish community.  Our values, the ancient teachings of compassion, justice, freedom, our rich and beautiful culture and religious traditions,  the reality that we seek to embody as a Jewish community are precious treasures which benefit not only our own people but our society as a whole.  Being involved in synagogue and ritual life as a participant and builder goes hand in hand with being involved as an American citizen in our community democratic organs from the local to the national.  

Empowerment, not entitlement, expansive use of moral strength and telling truth to power (in the words of Professor Wiesel), rather  barricading ourselves, celebrating Jewish life, not allowing ourselves and our children to see ourselves as only helpless client-victims, these are the ways forward.  In these days as we read about the endless complaints of our ancestors in the desert, insisting on seeing themselves as weak, helpless slaves, the point is driven home over and over: it is when we stand up and act boldly and move forward that we realize the blessing of Abraham: the blessing of being a blessing. 


Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784