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The funky art of uplift in Texas

Some people are in the business of justifying terror, but there is a more powerful message coming from those who love
An installation in support of the hostages, from Congregation Beth El of Tyler, Texas's solidarity trip to Israel, with Rabbi Neal Katz. (via Facebook)
An installation in support of the hostages, from Congregation Beth El of Tyler, Texas's solidarity trip to Israel, with Rabbi Neal Katz. (via Facebook)

I was fortunate to be part of a solidarity mission to Israel in late December with 20 rabbis. We met with evacuees, parents of those still held in captivity, military officials, and colleagues. We volunteered, saw some powerful pop-up civilian responses to support Israelis during this time, we prayed, and our souls were both pained and uplifted at the same time.

But as we drove through Israel – from the airport to billboards to city squares, we saw the phrase: יחד ננצח — Together, we will win.

And it is emblazoned on my heart.

Here in North America, we have a different version of “together we will win.” Our version involves finding allies who understand and support Israel in these difficult moments. And it is hard.

It is old news at this point, but many of the traditional alliances of interfaith dialogue and cooperation that have dominated North American Jewish conversations over the past number of years have atrophied. Jews are left with collective whiplash due to the abandonment of our presumed allies.

Yet, I am hopeful that this will change in time because the causes for which we stood together are still holy. But there will have to be a new paradigm of engagement. I’m not sure what that is at the moment.

Still today, across so much of North America, there is story after story of emboldened anti-Jewish behavior, antisemitic ugliness in academia, political rhetoric designed to divide us, and broken friendships.

And yet, a new light emerges.

In early-January, in my little congregation, nestled in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas, we received a gift. One random day, hanging on the front door of my congregation, was an unframed piece of art. It was a multicolored cowboy hat emblazoned with a Jewish star. And on the front was a text that read, “The world needs more Jewish cowboys.”

It was a strikingly beautiful and provocative piece of art. But what the hell is going on?

Who left a random piece of artwork with a cryptic message of support on the front door of my small Reform congregation in East Texas? Spoiler alert: I do not know.

But while so many of my colleagues are struggling with communities that are abandoning Jewish partnerships and engagement, I seem to have been blessed with a funky piece of art that offers a ray of light. But it gets better.

Upon turning it over, I saw that there was an entire letter that the artist wrote on the back of the canvas. (transcribed below)

For Congregation Beth El,

Greetings and Happy New Year Neighbors & Friends! While not the start of the Jewish New Year it is nonetheless a time recognized globally as a new start. Last year, specifically starting on October 7th & continuing to this day, was particularly hard on Jewish people worldwide as that familiar brand of Jew hatred spewed forth once more. People were hated and killed just for being Jews. But the Jewish people have seen this before & likely will again… so it is important to know you are not alone. There are a number of us non-Jews here in East Texas who love you guys and pray for you daily. It has been said “the world needs more cowboys…” & I say “true dat”… but the world also needs more Jews – not less – so let’s just make ‘em Jewish cowboys & cowgirls. God bless Y’all ~~J.

Wow!

I do not need to add any Gemara to this beautiful sentiment. And the fact that I could not make out the artist’s name, though I tried, makes it all the more intriguing.

I took a snapshot of the signature and shared it with my local artist friends to see if they recognized the name. They did not. And while I could spend more energy trying to figure out the artist, I actually enjoy it remaining a mystery. Because while I don’t know the specific person, I think the message, even from an unknown author, helped to lift my community’s spirit.

In the days after the massacre of October 7th, I arrived at my congregation to find a different unclaimed gift in front of my door. It was a bouquet of flowers with a message that simply said something like, “We love you and are praying for peace.” I shared a picture of the flowers on social media with my own message. I wrote then:

There are some people who are in the business of justifying terror. And then there are some people in the business of showing love.
We all know the difference.
Someone left an anonymous bouquet of flowers at the door of our congregation. They get it.
These are difficult days, and I urge everyone to be careful on social media, show love to your friends, and reach out to anyone they know who might be affected to show your love.
No need for more flowers, just please take care of one another. Thank you to all those who have reached out to the congregation. We feel your love.

What was true on October 12th, when I received those flowers, remained true in January, when I received the painting: that as we move forward toward Israeli victory and security, we know that some people are in the business of justifying terror. And then there are some people in the business of showing love.

And as much noise as the haters make, there is a more powerful noise coming from those who love us. May those that love Jerusalem, and the Jewish people, prosper.

It was a beautiful piece of funky artwork left on the door of a small congregation in East Texas — but the message is holy and needs to be shared in these difficult days: we are surrounded by love.

About the Author
Neal Katz is the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, Texas. He is a member of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, Recharge Reform, and locally, he is involved in a number of non-profit organizations.
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