FROM OUR RABBI…
Further Reflections on Colleyville, Texas…
For those who read my e-mail on January 20, reflecting on the recent hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, first, a correction: I accidentally cited Exodus 21:16 as part of parashat Yitro, when it really belongs to the following parasha, Mishpatim. My apologies!
In that same message, I mentioned that it is frustrating to know that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and Congregation Beth Israel did everything right and still faced this terrible situation. At the time, I was referring to their security measures. However, there are other things that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the congregation did right that I’d like to highlight. They modeled our Jewish values from start to finish –
– building and sustaining relationships with people of all faiths.
You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:19)
Congregation Beth Israel had longstanding relationships with other faith groups in the area, much like B’nai Sholom’s partnership with Delmar Presbyterian Church in Family Promise, or members’ participation in the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and the Capital Region Interfaith Creation Care Coalition (CRICCC).
– demonstrating hospitality.
…[Abraham] was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and bowed to the ground. (Gen. 18:1-2)
Rabbi Cytron-Walker’s first encounter with his eventual captor wasn’t at gunpoint. The man, who we now know had spent at least one night in a homeless shelter before the attack, had shown up at the synagogue, knocking on the glass door to be let in. “When I took him in, I stayed with him,” Cytron-Walker said. “Making tea was an opportunity to talk with him…”
– preserving human dignity.
The Talmud (Arachin 16b) emphasizes doing everything possible to avoid embarrassing others.
When Rabbi Cytron-Walker first had suspicions that something might be amiss, before any actual violence had broken out, he made an effort to talk to the visitor privately, demonstrating sensitivity.
– pikuach nefesh – preserving life.
While we regret the loss of any human life in the course of these events, we are also grateful that those taken hostage were prepared to run to safety when they had the chance and to defend themselves by force when necessary.
The events of January 16 were tragic and terrifying. In the face of these unpredictable attacks, we want to feel as safe and prepared as possible. Between the support of the Albany police, the resources of our local Jewish Federation (which has a dedicated page of security-related resources at https://www.jewishfedny.org/security), and the efforts of our own Safety and Security Committee, we continue to make strides in that direction. We are giving serious and sustained attention to preserving life; yet, we must also remember that pikuach nefesh is not our only Jewish value.
In an interview with NPR, Rabbi Cytron-Walker was asked whether he would act any differently if someone else knocked on his door seeking food or shelter. He responded with incredible grace, maintaining his commitment to hospitality: “And so when someone comes to the door, they are nervous. They are questioning. They’re asking – am I going to be accepted? … And I want them to know that they are going to belong. We can’t forget about who we are. Hospitality means the world. …We can’t know what’s coming. And we also can’t live in fear every step of the way.”
We will continue to address these issues as a congregation and I remain available to you as a resource, should you want to talk. In the meanwhile, may the breadth of Jewish tradition and values remain our guide.
Rabbi Danielle Weisbrot
 Quoted in The Dallas Morning News. “Rabbi says he threw chair at Colleyville synagogue hostage-taker before lunging for the door” by Kelli Smith and Maggie Prosser. January 17, 2022.
 All Things Considered interview with Rabbi Cytron-Walker. “Texas Rabbi who was held hostage says we can’t live in fear” by Mary Louise Kelly. January 19, 2022.