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A Traumatic Shabbat

Yesterday began as a peaceful and restful Shabbat. It was my daughter’s birthday, and we were looking forward to a relaxing day. That expectation was realized until about 3:30 in the afternoon, when we first heard about the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX. From that moment on, we were anxiously searching news sites for any information on the situation. To be honest, it was not easy to find the information. I got my first success when I looked up Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post. Eventually, I found the news on CNN, but not many other mainstream US sites were reporting at that stage of the crisis. (Now, of course, most mainstream media have reported on it.)

As the hostage situation wore on, we learned that four people, including the rabbi, were taken hostage. We learned about how wonderful Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was, beloved by his congregation and by the greater community of Colleyville. He was involved in outreach throughout the Colleyville community and worked to build bridges with the Muslim community specifically. Those efforts at outreach did not stop a terrorist from walking into the synagogue on Shabbat, armed and threatening to detonate a bomb if his demands were not met. His demands became known immediately because of the livestream that was running throughout the service and continued for a few hours into the crisis. Livestreams are now common in many synagogues due to the need to use Zoom services to connect their members during the pandemic. Congregants were able to listen to his rant as time passed on Facebook until it was eventually cut off.

The terrorist’s demands were to force the release another terrorist who was convicted and sentenced to 86 years in prison due to her terrorist activities and her connection to the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attack. I do not want to mention her name or provide a platform for her followers to rehash her terrorist resume or hateful beliefs. Let it just be known that she was a rabid antisemite and spewed hatred against the Jewish people. The hostage taker also spewed hatred against the Jewish people. How FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno could say, “We do believe from our engagement with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” is shocking. How could this not be related to the Jewish community? He did not walk into a 7-Eleven or Walmart. He chose the closest synagogue to the airport where he landed.

Antisemitism continues to grow and multiply. We need to continue to build on the security needs of our Jewish community. All synagogues need improved infrastructure and protection. I always thank the security guards at my own synagogue, the Jewish Day School where I taught and sent my children, and at the local JCC and Federation buildings I attend. I appreciate their presence and I work to build positive personal relationships with them letting them know how much I appreciate their support. We must continue to build the infrastructure needed to ensure the safety of our Jewish establishments.

Antisemitic incidents are being reported more frequently and yet they are often not taken seriously. Instances of antisemitism have been on the rise in work and education settings according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On a recent panel focusing on the increased incidents of antisemitism, it was noted that 65% of Jewish students have reported experiencing antisemitism on campus and 50% have had to change their behaviors to feel safe according to a survey conducted by the Brandeis Center. If we are living in the United States of America, we should expect better. This land was built on the basis of freedom and “liberty and justice for all”. The current social environment does not provide that security or justice.

Antisemitism takes on many faces. It comes from the extremist Islamists, the extremist conservatives, and the extremist liberals. It seems that antisemitism makes for the strangest alliances…

So what can we do? We must raise our voices. We must let our government know we demand actions and not just words. Multiple organizations provide methods to reach out to our elected leaders. Hadassah provides resources to contact your legislators. Signing up for alerts and then using those resources when you see a need to reach out is essential to protecting the Jewish community. We need to let our police departments know we appreciate their protection and their help. The police in Texas acted quickly to help the Jewish community in Colleyville. Antisemitism should be a non-partisan issue. It is over 75 years since the end of the Holocaust, and we are facing eerily similar situations today in the US and around the world. We must be vigilant, and we must strive to use the resources we have to protect the Jewish community from hate. We must be prepared. This could have had a much different ending, so we should be grateful the stand-off ended with the safe rescue of our fellow Jews. Again, we see that this could happen anywhere, Pittsburgh, Poway, Monsey, Jersey City, Colleyville. Will your town be next? Will mine?

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder is a proud "Jersey Girl" raised in the beautiful Garden State of NJ. She developed her deep love for Israel when her father shared his Zionism with her when she was a little girl. The family first went to Israel for her bat mitzvah and from there her Zionism grew. In college, Stephanie studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad and from then on committed herself to returning to Israel as often as possible. Stephanie has dedicated her life to teaching children in both secular and religious schools. In her volunteer hours, she is part of a 5 generation life member family of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America where she currently is a member of the National Board. Stephanie continues to educate teens and adults on Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest and her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. All of her blogs are her own personal opinions and do not represent the organizations with which she is affiliated.
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