Pittsburgh, Poway, Colleyville

When Shabbat ended yesterday I saw what riveted the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel all day: the entry of a human being, suffering from anger and in misery, into a shul during Shabbat livestream prayers. He held the human beings he found hostage all day. The day ended with all hostages safe and the hostage taker dead, regrettably but not surprisingly.

This is a fact: being Jewish brings a measure of insecurity. Being part of an organized Jewish gathering place such as a shul can put one in danger. For those of us whose forebears turned to the United States as a place where they and their children would be safe from the persecutions we fled in Europe, these days are bitterly disappointing.

It is only human for us to react by seeking to secure, even augment, our safety. This is as natural and as necessary as is a COVID-19 mask. The way we react as Jews is more nuanced: how to keep the doors of our compassion open, and our hearts awake and aware. 

Yes, it makes sense to enhance our doors. Yes, we must be thoughtful in our signage or other indications of who’s inside. But we must not delude ourselves that we can circle the wagons and never have to be afraid again. 

What we have learned through the pandemic is useful here: even when we are as careful as we know how to be, we can never be completely safe. All we can be is conscious of how our acts accord, or not, with the highest, deepest and best we mean to be as thoughtful and ethical Jews. We cannot avoid fear; all we can do is to be afraid together, carefully, with awareness; we can deliberately choose to continue to lead with love, not with fear.

Synagogues go out of our way to care for each human being who comes within the light we shine so brightly, of love and belonging and compassion. I am confident that we will continue to shine that light, in ways that will secure us in the knowledge that we may not ever be entirely safe in the world, but we have always acted in accord with our best Jewish ethics as we thoughtfully consider each situation that arises.

with love and with hope as another week begins, shavua tov.

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