I do not know Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker of Colleyville, Texas personally, but I love and respect the man. His ordeal against this most recent antisemitic attack, it seems to me, ended as it did without physical harm coming to him and the other hostages as a consequence of his empathy and capacity to relate lovingly with people. His studied calm in facing danger, and his instinct for taking advantage of a single moment to escape after he and his fellow hostages concluded that their survival was ultimately on them alone to act when the moment presented itself.
The outpouring of loving support to Charlie and his fellow hostages from the Colleyville religious community of Christians and Muslims, the American Reform movement and Jewish people around the world, and all decent Americans, was as a consequence, in the first case, of Charlie’s years of work befriending and finding common ground with his fellow clergy colleagues from across religious lines in Colleyville. Then from the close organizational and communal support system developed over the past century in the American Reform Jewish movement, and from the Jewish people’s millennial tradition of feeling responsible for and acting in support of one another.
None of these consequences is automatic. Creating community on both the small and large scale takes deliberate and consistent effort at every level of community organization, in every endeavor, by individuals and small groups, by leaders and those behind the scenes who are the connective tissue of relationships and the builders of community.
Rabbi Charlie showed the world this past weekend what he is made of as a Jewish leader, and in that he taught us all about how to be fully present in the moment, to stay true to himself as an rabbinic trailblazer, and to confront an adversary with courage, strength, grace, dignity, intelligence, and common human decency. Rabbi Charlie became a model of leadership for many far beyond his community that already knows and loves him. He is an inspiration, and if there is any silver lining to be found here, it is this – that Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker set the very best human face of the Jewish people before the world.
When the hostages escaped, all who value human life breathed a sigh of relief. I pray that Rabbi Charlie and his family, the other hostages and their families, and his Colleyville community will find healing and added strength of purpose in the wake of this ordeal.