For than a week, I have remained shaken by the hostage-taking at a synagogue in Colleyville, outside Dallas, Texas. Anti-semitic acts are becoming increasingly common in our country and Europe.
Jews have always been the targets of hateful violence and bigotry. Nothing illustrates this horrendous fact more than the Holocaust engineered by Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and 1940s. Six million Jews lost their lives as Hitler destroyed an ethnic group to motivate Germans to consider themselves superior and gain dominance over the Western World.
He used age-old bias toward Jews to deceive otherwise well-meaning people into thinking that only they could and should rule; subjugating and murdering an accomplished group of people somehow seemed the way to arouse pride and confidence. It was sickeningly effective.
It was madness. It took scapegoating to a level of malice never seen before in the world.
Fast forward to Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, when a mentally unbalanced man from Great Britain held hostage four men, including the rabbi, in a synagogue that welcomed him. He wanted the release of a woman, his “sister,” who was being held in a federal jail in Dallas for firing at U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Through clear thinking and calm behavior, the rabbi and two congregants escaped unharmed, and the gunman was killed by the police. The fourth man, frail and elderly, had been released earlier.
Is it any wonder that the haunting legacy of the Holocaust is not forgotten by Jews, who felt their supposedly secure and assimilated lives upended by the murder three-and-a-half years ago of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.?
Jews live continually on the precipice of senseless death by crazed people who feel empowered to vent their frustrations on a group of people singled out malevolently for thousands of years for being considered different. Accused now of controlling the media, banks and academia, they wear invisible targets on their backs.
Though assimilated in America, where their loyalty to, and love of our country is unquestioned, they confront periodic reminders of how their lives are under constant threat driven by bigotry and villainization.
So, what should synagogues in big and small communities do to protect their congregants? They cannot be naive. They cannot minimize the possibility of armed violence.
They must act, as many have done. I would suggest armed security daily, not just High Holidays. I would suggest training as the rabbi and congregants did in Texas. I would recommend vigilance on the part of all members in the congregation; while paranoia is unhealthy, intelligent watchfulness is sensible.
Of course, local law enforcement must be sensitive to potential acts of horror at a synagogue. Houses of worship are fair game for people bent on inflicting harm on people viewed different than they.
On a macro level, Jewish leaders must be vocal in their demands for protection and useful intelligence-gathering. They cannot be shy. Too much is at stake.
Anti-semitism is alive and well in our world. Bigotry is innate.
Though Hitler’s Holocaust may never recur, smaller versions of deadly actions against Jews are de rigueur, unavoidable for inexplicable reasons. Religious bias permeates our planet. It pollutes our discourse.
Good people cannot be quiet; evil forces perceive that silence as acquiescence, a stimulant for wretched wrongdoers.
Images of synagogue assaults burrow deeply into my soul. They prompt horror and sorrow.
The lone gunman, distraught over the perceived slights and imbued with a heightened sense of victimization, inflicts his or her poisonous venom without regard for human life.
Jews should not feel blessed by an inherent ability to live and thrive. They should view themselves as worthy, respected citizens of the world. They deserve to live without fear. They must understand, however, that unwarranted hate plagues their being.