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are you seeing what is going on in colleyville?

01/23/2022 03:01:10 PM


My message from last Shabbat evening, January 21, 2022.

“Are you seeing what is going on in Colleyville?” 

I was out for a walk last Shabbat afternoon when I read that text message from a friend.  I did not know what it meant.  Frankly, I had never heard of Colleyville. 

Once back home, I caught up with the unfolding horrific event. 

A rabbi and three of his congregants were held hostage in their synagogue. Their hostage-taker demanded the release of a terrorist held prisoner just a few miles away.

I am relieved and grateful that those held hostage escaped after many hours and were not physically harmed, though they must live with this trauma for the rest of their lives.

But there is one detail about the incident that I have not been able to stop thinking about. The doors of that synagogue had been locked, as synagogue doors always must be these days. The rabbi let a stranger inside because it was a cold morning and he looked like he needed shelter.

The rabbi let this stranger in and offered him a cup of tea. And later, the stranger pulled out a gun.

The rabbi was acting with kindness.  He followed his impulse to help others.

 We teach our children from a very young age to act with kindness. Our toddler hits another child, and we reprove our toddler. “We don’t hurt others,” we say.  A preschooler does not want to share a favorite toy, and we encourage our child to do just that.  We praise our child when the toy is offered to another.

We also tell and retell our sacred stories, like the one of Abraham welcoming three complete strangers into his tent, offering them a feast and a chance to rest.

We want to be kind. 

But in Colleyville, the rabbi’s kindness put him and three others in danger.

This breaks my heart.

It wasn’t enough that this pandemic has conditioned us to look at other human beings as potential vectors of illness.  So we keep our distance from others, or stay home. 

Now we have another reason to fear other people. We have another reason to question our impulse for kindness.
This is what fear can do to us.

In the Torah, we read of God appearing on Mount Sinai to reveal what becomes known as the Ten Commandments. But the people are afraid to approach the mountain where God was meeting with Moses. Moses tells the people: “Be not afraid, for God has come only in order to test you….”

What happened in Colleyville feels like a test. As the leader of a synagogue, I recognize the responsibility to do all we can provide security and safety. But as a human being, my heart breaks when I hear some say: “We cannot open the door to a stranger. Everyone is a potential threat.  This is the world we live in and we just have to accept it.”

I don’t want this incident to stifle my instinct to open the door and let someone who may need help inside. I resent having to act in a less generous and open-hearted way to a stranger at the door.

This is what I fear:  that I must change in a way I do not want to change. Because then – who am I? And what do we become?

Do we throw aside the words of Rabbi Hillel, who said: “In a place where no one is human, we must strive to be human?”  Do we say, “Sorry, Rabbi Hillel.  Your words sound nice, but they do not apply anymore.”

There are no simple answers.  I know that. This is a complicated time in a world that is at once both dangerous and beautiful.

While we may crave simple answers, the stark reality is that simple answers to complex questions are usually inadequate, or even false. We need to learn how to live with these questions.

On Sunday afternoon, I spoke with a member of our congregation about what happened in Colleyville. We both happened to have been in the New York City on September 11, 2001. 

She reminded me that on Yom Kippur that year, just two weeks later, Rabbi Ferris invited people to speak about their experience on 9/11. One person said that it took only a handful of people fly the airplanes into the buildings, but five hundred thousand turned out to help.

Colleyville has also inspired countless acts of loving kindness and support. The instinct for kindness and the instinct to show up for each other were on full display during those hours of terror.  Just down the street from the synagogue, people of all backgrounds and faiths gathered at a Catholic church to support each other and to comfort the family members of those held hostage. One person terrorized the rabbi and his congregation.  Hundreds showed up to help. 

You see? Kindness matters after all. Kindness has its own power. Kindness has its own power to keep us living each day as best we can in this dangerous and beautiful world.

Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782