When the terrorist knocked on the door of a Texas synagogue this past Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest and connection, the rabbi did what came naturally to him: he warmly welcomed the stranger with a cup of hot tea.
But the stranger called up that universal rumor that has dogged us Jews for millennia: that we have orchestrated the world’s ills and we get the punishment we deserve. The canard has always been a target on our backs.
The stranger took four hostages on Saturday, and for 10 unbearable hours, their lives hung in the balance. One man was released a few hours earlier, but the rabbi and two others remained held at gunpoint, before making a daring escape.
I thought, immediately, about how a stranger could have terrorized my synagogue. In our morning prayers, we Jews say this benediction: Blessed is God who frees the captive. Baruch ata Adonai, matir asurim. My siblings were held captive on Saturday. The rabbi, by all accounts, embraced humanity and built bridges between various groups in his community. Please, I whispered all day Saturday during the standoff, do not let him or the others die.
In our prayers, we anticipate the worst, as we, ironically, bless God in advance. We boldly ask, Who is like you among other Gods? Mi camocha baelim Adonai? It is as much a question as it is a challenge. The Israelites, unsure of this God who brought them out of Egypt, demanded an answer as they crossed the Red Sea.
Safe passage between the walls of water has always been tenuous. That’s the thing about miracles — we only realize them in hindsight.
God has been silent since biblical times, no longer choosing to perform technicolor miracles like the parting of that Red Sea. For that, our collective imagination has only the movie version to refer to. But the divided sea is like my people. We are at odds with one another until tragedy comes to our house. Safe passage between the walls of water has always been tenuous. That’s the thing about miracles — we only realize them in hindsight.
That four hostages survived in Colleyville was a modern-day miracle — where I see God hovering in the background. The fact that the suspect died at the scene keeps us from completely rejoicing in the same way Jews do not celebrate the deaths of the Egyptians who chased us, and then drowned in the Red Sea.
In the end, there was no body count of innocent Jews in Colleyville, Texas as there was in 2018 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 were gunned down for being Jews; or in Poway, California, in 2019 where one congregant died of her wounds.
Was God lurking in the background in Pittsburgh and Poway as well?
God silently witnesses the bedlam that we humans create. God watches when we exercise a free will that has gone awry. Maybe, however, we of the Jewish faith are the ultimate optimists, sending prayers to a God who has not obviously been moved to tears by our suffering. We Jews have been tortured and murdered since the beginning of time. Less than a century ago, we were the black smoke that rose out of the chimneys of Nazi crematoria. Why wasn’t God been visibly shocked? Where was that miracle?
I need to hear God weep.
When I worked for a Jewish organization in the 1980s my job was to monitor antisemitic activity; I spent years confronted by a buzzy hate mongering industry dwelling among us. I had never seen such raw antisemitism. One of my generation’s versions of a blood libel has been that Jews in Hollywood staged the Holocaust. In this tale, there were no gas chambers. The promulgators of this antisemitic falsehood perverted free speech and real science to promulgate their hate. They said the pictures of piles of Jewish bodies were doctored. Anne Frank’s diary was a forgery. Jews faked their genocide.
I am 61 years old now, and I cannot recall a time when I have been more scared as a Jew.
I am 61-years-old now, and I cannot recall a time when I have been more scared as a Jew. We Jews have been forced to lock the doors of our schools, our synagogues, and our institutions in our beloved America. But once again, Colleyville showed us that is not enough. God, show yourself, is the plea of generations of spent Jews.
Another plea, this time from King David the psalmist:
I cry aloud to the Lord, I appeal to the Lord loudly for mercy. I pour out my complaint before the Lord. I lay out my complaint.
I read those words at the suggestion of a rabbi on Facebook — where I first learned of the attack on Temple Beth Israel in Colleyville — and instead of comforting me, they made me angry.
God, I have laid my sorrow and fear at your door. They ball up into grief. The only thing I can do is take these feelings back and gather the courage to go on living. Maybe that is the definition of survival. Maybe it’s quiet heroism. Or perhaps I am another Jew mourning in our ongoing history.