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Deborah Fripp
Teaching the Holocaust through stories of Jewish Resilience

When it’s an attack on your own community

(Congregation Kol Ami, used with permission)
(Congregation Kol Ami, used with permission)

I awoke on Sunday morning in Singapore to the news that another synagogue was under attack. The rabbi and several congregants of a synagogue in Texas were being held hostage by an unknown assailant. An old story, a repeated story – Jews under attack for being Jews.

This time was different, however. This time it was personal. The synagogue in question, Congregation Beth Israel (CBI), is 20 minutes away from the synagogue I attended in Texas. I know the rabbi who was being held hostage. I’ve spoken to him. I have friends who attend that synagogue.

This could have been my congregation. We always say that no matter where the congregation is. We said that about Squirrel Hill and Poway, about Paris and Jersey City. But this time, it was true for me in a different way. In more ways than one, this really could have been my congregation.

My Texas congregation was holding services that Saturday morning too. Twenty minutes away. It was an accident of fate that my rabbi was standing on the outside with the police, rather than sitting on the inside with the perpetrator.

Equally, though, life would not have had to be very different for us to have been members of CBI, attending Shabbat services on a Saturday morning. Congregation Beth Israel is no further away from where we lived in Texas than the congregation we did attend.

Breathing again

Eleven hours after the hostages were taken, we heard the news that it was over. All the hostages had been rescued safely. I breathed again, discovering that I had been holding my breath for hours. I watched my Facebook feed, as all my friends discovered they could breathe again too.

And then I faced the question: What now? After it’s over and you can breathe again, what then? Somehow, just going on with our life as if nothing has happened seems wrong. How can we go about life as if everything is normal when we are still shaking from a chaos of emotion? How do we process this?

First Instincts

When I’ve heard about attacks on synagogues in the past, my first instinct has always been to look to the community. “See how everyone rallied around us,” I tell my friends. “See how we are not alone. Connect to them and to each other. Don’t let the terrorists, foreign or domestic, drive you into hiding.”

That was not my first instinct this time. This time, my first thought was about security. What sort of security did they have? What plans did they have for events like this? What had they rehearsed for such scenarios? Most importantly, how does that compare to what we (my Texas synagogue) have in place? What does this mean to how we should be changing our security procedures?

I don’t ask these questions to blame CBI in any way for what happened. I ask them to learn from what went wrong. To protect the people I love from the next time someone tries to attack a North Texas synagogue.

Maybe this is my first thought because I’m so far away and that makes me scared. Scared that my friends are under threat and there’s nothing I can do about it.

In truth, though, my friends are no more under threat now than they were before. This incident does not represent a conspiracy against the Jews of North Texas. Just like Squirrel Hill and Poway, this was a single disturbed individual taking his anger out on us. And as in those other cases, we can see that if we look to the community.

The Jewish Community

In all of these incidents, the Jewish community from around the world comes together as one unit. We all feel under attack. My rabbi here in Singapore was following the events in Colleyville, calling to check on us, knowing that this had been our area. My Facebook feed was full of Jews from across the country, across the world, praying, waiting, holding their breath together.

“Whether Pittsburgh, Poway, or Colleyville, whenever this happens the world stops for all Jews. We all pray for our brothers and sisters, we all watch the news in anticipation, we all feel it as if it’s a close family member. Because we are all one people, we are all Am Yisrael.”[1]

The non-Jewish Community

It’s easy for us to feel alone in this situation. A number of my Jewish friends on Facebook seemed to feel that the non-Jewish world was not paying enough attention. I saw a very different picture, however. Perhaps because I am so far away. Perhaps because I am connected to the Texas community that was at the heart of this incident.

My non-Jewish friends were holding their breath along with my Jewish friends. News outlets across the world carried live coverage. It made the top of the news in Singapore.[2] World leaders were commenting, praying. The world seemed to be holding its breath along with us.

The Colleyville community rallied together. The Catholic Church down the road from CBI took in the families of the victims, in the words of my Texas rabbi, “sheltering, comforting, and shielding Jews when they were most vulnerable.”[3] Faith leaders from across the area – rabbis, imams, and pastors – gathered at the church to support each other, the families of the victims, and the community as a whole.

In a video posted late Saturday, the mayor of Colleyville told his community, “It angers me to the core” that this took place in our city. “We will heal,” he said, “but it will take time.”[4] We the citizens of Colleyville feel attacked, he means, not just we the Jews.

It is easy for us, as Jews, to remember that we belong to a global Jewish community and to forget that we also belong to our local multicultural community. And that these incidents impact that community too. The whole of Colleyville, of North Texas, feels violated, as the whole Jewish community does.

My Community

Every one of us belongs to multiple, overlapping communities. Though I may be an ocean away, I am still part of the Colleyville/Flower Mound community. As I process this, I feel both the strength and the fragility of the threads that weave together my communal identity.

As part of both the Jewish community and the North Texas community, I do not want to say, “see how everyone rallied around us Jews.” Such a statement artificially separates us as Jews from the rest of our community. Instead I want to say, “see how we rallied together.” I am proud to be a part of both of these communities.

[1] From Daniel Koren, @Dani_Sababa

[2] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/morning-briefing-top-stories-from-the-straits-times-on-jan-16-2022 It’s the 3rd story on this page.

[3] Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis, in his morning-after post. Rabbi Dennis was one of the police chaplains on the scene.

[4] https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/northeast-tarrant/article257387202.html

About the Author
Dr. Deborah Fripp is the president of the Teach the Shoah Foundation. Her website (www.TeachTheShoah.org) provides resources on commemorating, teaching, and understanding the Holocaust for communities, families, and educators. You can sign up to hear about her new blogs at www.teachtheshoah.org/subscribe.
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