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Manya Brachear Pashman
Co-host, People of the Pod

Grappling with My Purpose After Colleyville

It’s been more than a week since four hostages were taken at a synagogue in Texas, just two hours from where I spent part of my childhood and adolescence.

Hours after the news broke, my mother texted. “Are you watching?” “No,” I replied. “I can’t.”

My husband clutched his iPhone in frustration, noting that most major media outlets weren’t covering the situation. I asked him not to talk about it.

Later that week, having not heard from me, my sister asked if I was OK. I told her I was busy.

And I was. I had a job to do. As the host of a podcast on global affairs through a Jewish lens, I interviewed Muslim and Jewish leaders about the importance of standing in solidarity. Then later that week, I talked to AJC CEO David Harris about the courage of Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, when she resisted someone trying to deny the murder of six million Jews.

But the truth is, I was in a form of denial myself. I could not confront the horror that unfolded in Texas just days earlier. It shook me in a way I struggled to explain.

Jews have seen worse, of course. This time, no one died. They all escaped, thanks to the heroic efforts and security training the rabbi had received. Security training. I’ve turned to rabbis for a lot of answers over the years, but I never imagined asking a spiritual leader how to fend off an armed terrorist.

Thank God, this did not end with yet another mass loss of life. Thank God, I didn’t find myself trying to explain another gruesome front-page story to my kids. Instead, I was trying to understand, along with my husband, why the story landed on page 19, why some people on social media seemed to blame the victims for standing with Israel, why some, including law enforcement, didn’t grasp the hostage taker’s antisemitism.

But the fact remains that the terrorist chose Congregation Beth Israel because of the Star of David on its brick façade. The four hostages were lucky.

My husband and I always intended to be members of a synagogue by now. My son is 7 and more than ready for Hebrew school. My 5-year-old daughter recites the Hebrew prayers fluently. But the pandemic threw a wrench into our shul shopping. As strangers in a strange land (we moved from Chicago to New Jersey a year earlier) we had looked forward to finding a new community.

But in a way, I confess, I’ve also been grateful that I could postpone what I have come to consider a necessary burden of parenthood. Yes, I just referred to synagogue attendance as a burden. Why? I already anticipate going to the synagogue on Shabbat, on High Holidays, on any holidays and greeting the uniformed guard at the door. I already anticipate feeling the terror and dread.

I found myself equally grateful to be a virtual guest at the bar mitzvah of an extended family member a few days after Colleyville. Only close family physically attended the ceremony because of Omicron. As the rabbi and guests stood before the ark and others sat in the pews, as the young man excitedly took his place on the bimah, I was overwhelmed by the bravery that must have required just 36 hours after the hostages escaped Beth Israel.

It wasn’t far from the bar mitzvah father’s mind either. He proclaimed terrorism and antisemitism would not win, before bestowing his words of praise and pride upon his son. I watched with admiration – envious of their courage. I listened to the young man’s optimism and watched my children sit through the entire service – albeit in front of a screen – mesmerized and intrigued.

It was so clear they wanted to share the moment with their cousins, catching candy, and touching the Torah scrolls when the bar mitzvah paraded them around the room. We cannot postpone these sacred experiences any longer. My children need to know and connect with their community.

All of this to explain why, more than a week later, I’m writing about old news. It took some time for me to grapple with what that news meant for my own responsibility as a parent, as a member of the Jewish community, as a journalist. I found myself grappling with my purpose, our purpose.

It takes time to process a trauma. I can only imagine what the hostages in Colleyville and their families are still going through. The same for survivors of Pittsburgh, Poway, Paris, Toulouse, Jersey City, the list goes on. But all of us in the Jewish community are shouldering the burden to some degree.

Regardless of whether you attend a synagogue or you made Aliyah to Israel; whether you host a Jewish podcast or you simply swim at the JCC pool; whether you’re staring down the barrel of a gun or reading about it, we all carry the weight of what happened in Colleyville.

We are one community. Having each other and worshiping together is not the burden. Keeping that in mind may be a challenge, but it is indeed necessary.

An abbreviated version of this piece originally aired on People of the Pod, a podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens by American Jewish Committee. In the same episode, the author interviewed Ladino musician Sarah Aroeste about recovering a lost Sephardic Jewish culture 77 years after it was decimated in the Holocaust. Listen here.

About the Author
Manya Brachear Pashman is co-host of People of the Pod, an American Jewish Committee podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens. She covered religion for the Chicago Tribune between 2003 and 2018.
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