Rabbi's Message - January 25, 2022
There are so many of us who are still processing the events at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The feelings of “that could have been me/us” are very real. The anger and hurt because we don’t live in a world where people can pray in peace. We must be on alert, even in our houses of worship. I thank God that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and his congregants stayed strong and calm and survived physically unharmed. I pray for their mental well-being. I pray that everyone affected is able to return to wholeness and heal from this trauma.
This event has reminded us of the importance of vigilance. But what is troubling to cope with, is that the perpetrator appeared as a person in need of shelter, shared a cup of tea with Rabbi Cytron-Walker, and then took them hostage. Should this unknown visitor have been invited in? But also, what might have happened had Rabbi Cytron-Walker not created that personal connection?
The Talmud, in Baba Batra 7b, takes up a question of what is, in essence, an HOA battle, that still remains today: Can those who share a courtyard (think: neighborhood) be forced to contribute to build a guardhouse, gates, doors into the community? The initial response is that yes, they can. Communal safety is an imperative – a security guard, barriers, and other defense mechanisms against existing outside threats improves safety, reduces the “nuisance” of beggars, those experiencing homelessness, and more; it will let those who are in the neighborhood live more comfortably, securely divided from others who would pose a threat or nuisance.
Then the Talmud shares an interesting anecdote of a righteous man who would regularly encounter Elijah the Prophet – envisioned as an impoverished man who will herald the Messianic Age. The righteous man contributed to a guardhouse and Elijah stopped visiting him. The Talmud presupposes this is because the guardhouse prevents the poor from entering and asking (and receiving) charity that is due to them. Rabbi Josh Ladon comments on this section in the Jerusalem Post, following the incident in Colleyville, “The Talmud is uncomfortable with the implications of fortifying one’s home when there are others living on the streets. The juxtaposition of the two voices in instructive: Our safety and wellbeing come at a cost. We have the right to build safe barriers, but we need to ensure they do not deafen our ears or blind our eyes to those who are most in need.”
What happened in Colleyville should not blind or deafen us to those who enter our doors in need of shelter, connection, or anything else. Right now, we can remind ourselves of the Jewish imperative to treat others without prejudice and with the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, we must take our safety and security seriously. Just as I was retrained and re-certified annually in First Aid as a swim coach and life guard, it is important to retrain regularly in other life skills as well. One opportunity to do that is by engaging in the Secure Community Network (SCN)’s virtual training on January 27 at 1:00 pm EST to refresh our skills to help keep ourselves, our community, and our guests safe, just in case. In the words of our tradition: “Pray as if everything depended on God” – may we never need this skills; “Act as if everything depends on you” – but learn and refresh them anyways.