Jews shouldn’t have to live with this intense fear

After the attack on a Jewish synagogue in Texas last month I read an essay by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Georgia. She is Jewish and started the play with what is apparently a common Jewish prayer of blessing: “God, ruler of the universe, who sets captives free.”

Ms Lipstadt said she and many other Jews around the world said the prayer with tears after the incident in Texas. She hailed a tragedy averted. Indeed, after an 11-hour confrontation, four people, including a rabbi from a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, escaped an armed man who was holding them hostage. Ms Lipstadt also spoke of the scars that remain. She explained how difficult the incident was for the rabbi’s family and how it will affect them for some time. Everything is very understandable and not surprising.

But then Ms Lipstadt revealed that Jews, especially rabbis, in the United States now believe it is an act of courage, defiance and faith to simply go to synagogue for daily prayer. She mentioned people attending services while looking for the nearest exit or the safest place to hide. “Jews learned to be afraid beyond the synagogue.” She described other acts: violence against Jews eating in a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles, violence in New York against a Jew wearing a skullcap. But the pain is greater when violence occurs in the synagogue. She described the process of visiting a synagogue for services only after calling ahead and then being checked in advance to ensure it was safe to enter.

What really struck me was when she said she hadn’t walked through the entrance to her local synagogue in years, since the October 2018 shooting in Pittsburgh, because the door couldn’t not be secure. To keep people safe, they permanently locked this door. Then, she lamented walking past a large church on a Sunday, the front doors wide open and worshipers happily meeting people as they arrived.

I then realized that the Jewish people are yet another group excluded in our country from the privilege of the ruling class. Yes, I use the term “privilege”, in this sense, Christian white privilege. When I attend my predominantly white church, the doors aren’t locked, I don’t look for exits or a place to hide. I’m more concerned about catching COVID than being put down because of my faith or some other attribute. I have heard that some churches take precautions in case a shooter enters the scene. It’s more about acknowledging the proliferation of firearms in our country. They are everywhere and we can be exposed to gun violence at school, at the mall, anywhere, really.

Marcia Meoli

Investigating further, I see instances of gun violence in white Christian churches across our country, some even committed with religious animosity. But it’s not so prevalent that it seeps into our consciousness when we go to church here in West Michigan. I didn’t have conversations with other people at church about checking the exits in case an enemy of the Christians came to wipe us out. This is another problem that only some have to deal with on a regular basis, that we just learned about because we don’t have to deal with it.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who led his people from the crime scene in Texas, did an interview after the escape. He had brought the man into the synagogue that day and given him hot tea. During the prayer, the rabbi heard a click, which sounded like a gunshot. It was, but he didn’t know it yet. He approached the man and spoke to him softly. The man then pulled out his gun. After 11 a.m., the rabbi found a way out of there without bloodshed.

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When asked if he would offer tea to a stranger again, he said he would. “Hospitality means the world,” said Rabbi Cytron-Walker.

To the shooter’s family, the rabbi said, “I am so sorry that you had to endure this tragedy. It’s awful for all of us.”

Such grace at a time of intense discrimination against Jews. I can’t help but think that this rabbi exemplifies all the teachings that I appreciate in my faith, those that Jesus showed us and taught us. Grace, love, forgiveness. This rabbi gives that to everyone. He and his people deserve to live a life without fear. They, like everyone else, should have this privilege.

— Community columnist Marcia Meoli is a lawyer and resident of the Netherlands. Contact her at [email protected].

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