Michael Boyden

Reflections on the Hostage Taking in Colleyville, Texas

Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, opened his weekly Cabinet meeting this Sunday morning by stating:

“After a night full of worry, we are greatly relieved. With G-d’s help, the hostages at the ‘Beth Israel’ synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, have been freed.

“These are moments of mutual responsibility and we are one family with our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world, just as they stand with us in difficult times.”

‘Beth Israel’ is, of course, a Reform congregation. One of the four hostages taken was its rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was ordained by the Hebrew Union College and undertook part of his training at its campus in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Bennett reminds us that “we are one family”. However, successive Israeli governments have consistently refused to acknowledge that fact in practice.

Were Rabbi Cytron-Walker to live in Israel, he would not receive his salary from the state coffers like his Orthodox counterparts. The marriages at which he would officiate would not be recognized by the State of Israel for registration purposes.

Unlike other synagogues, his congregation would not receive financial support from the local Religious Council. In many towns he would be denied the right by the chevra kadisha (burial board) to officiate at the funerals of members of his community at the local municipal cemetery.

He may pray “Next year in Jerusalem” in Colleyville Texas, but were he to come to Israel, he might well find himself being spat at by religious fanatics when he joined the Women of the Wall for prayer on Rosh Chodesh.

He would himself witness the consequence of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu having reneged on his commitment to establish what Natan Sharansky referred to as “a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.”

Of course, we Reform Jews are acknowledged as belonging to the same one family when it comes to fundraising for Israeli causes, lobbying for Israel in the halls of power in the Diaspora and, as over this past weekend, when our lives are threatened just because we are Jews. Hitler made no distinction between us. Most of my father’s family were murdered during the Holocaust.

However, Israel, that should have provided a home, either physically or spiritually, for all Jews has been hijacked by the ultra-Orthodox, aided and abetted by secular Israeli political parties more concerned about their coalition interests than in creating a society in which all Jews can feel at home and truly be one family.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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