Dennis C. Sasso

Do not be afraid: Reflections a week after

This past Shabbat marked a week since the unfathomable events at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.  We are informed of the facts; we are dismayed by the reality; we are distraught that it could even happen.

Beyond the trauma inflicted upon Rabbi Cytron-Walker, the other hostages, and the entire congregation, is the painful progressive awakening of American Jewry to a state of awareness we would not have conceived possible in this land.

A new state of awareness requires a new mindset; raises new expectations; demands a new resolve.  The mindset is vigilance; the expectation is preparedness; the resolve is renewed faithful commitment to Judaism and to the values of democracy and pluralism that have allowed Judaism to thrive in our country.

Antisemitism has reached new heights in the past decade. Two thirds of all expressions of religious hatred are directed at Jews in our country.  Other expressions of bigotry, racism, and prejudice are also on the rise. As Jews we must be vigilant, but not isolated in our defensive efforts. It has been gratifying to receive expressions of support and solidarity from colleagues in the interfaith community.

Hatred is unrelenting. Social media posts have already attempted to turn this into an opportunity for Islamophobia. We welcome the support of our neighbors, as we have pledged and continue to offer our solidarity. Hatred, whether from the left or from the right should not unravel the bonds of mutual responsibility that bind us together as Americans and communities of faith.

It took a while for the Colleyville attack to be called out for what it was: “Antisemitism”. Antisemitism, let us not forget, is not just “religious discrimination”; it is racial hatred. It is the longest hatred and it has mutated and adapted. It is the barometer of the morality of western society.  Hence, we as Jews should call it out, denounce it, be vigilant and unabashedly safeguard our communities, serving as a model for others on how to protect identity in a spirit of collaborative unity.

Finally, an appeal to my congregants; to all Jews who love and support their synagogues.  There have been well meaning expressions of hesitation and indecision about the safety and security of attending synagogues.  A poem on the internet warns:  “every time i walked into the synagogue i eye the exits.  every. single. time. i know which pews i can hide behind…. i know where to sit to get me out….”

Please, do not adopt this attitude.  It is giving a victory to the enemies of our people, to the enemies of Judaism.  What keeps us from gathering now is concern for health because of a virus.  Do not allow the virus of hatred, the virus of antisemitism to keep you away or to be suspicious or hesitant about coming into the synagogue.  Synagogues and the organized Jewish community are collaborating with law enforcement to provide appropriate security and safety precautions and protections.  When the time comes for us to gather, do not fear.

“Do not fear” is one of the most oft-repeated injunctions in the Bible.  The synagogue is our sanctuary, our fortress of the spirit.  It is the place where we can say: “I am a Jew; I am an American Jew; I am not afraid.”

The prophet envisioned the time when “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

Let us hope, let us pray, let us labor unafraid to make it happen.

About the Author
Dennis Sasso is Senior Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Indiana. He is Affiliate Professor of Jewish Studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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