Dear friends and allies to the Jewish people,
As you already know, this past weekend, after an ostensibly homeless gunman was welcomed into a Texas shul, he took hostage a Rabbi and 3 innocent Jewish Shabbat worshippers. Jews the world over held our collective breath for 11 hours, praying that this synagogue attack would end differently than others in searingly recent memory.
Our gratitude and awe are immeasurable––for the fact that no innocent blood was spilled; for the courage and heroism of the hostages; for the tireless efforts of law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels; for the institutions that provide training and resources to Jewish clergy and congregants, knowing the urgent necessity of such skills and the likelihood that they would, quite literally, save lives.
When we learned that the hostages had all escaped with their physical safety, we exhaled, our hearts in our throats. But make no mistake: Jewish intergenerational trauma was triggered yet again, and our Jewish American community now confronts the haunting reality that our future is likely to look like our past, and more akin to the violent present that is driving Jews from Europe.
These feelings are not dramatic, and the way we describe the reality we face is not hyperbole. Jews have lived, and died, through these cycles of hate many times before. We need decisive action, and real solidarity. This past weekend, many of us felt deep empathy and a genuine commitment among some non-Jewish allies to the hard work of confronting antisemitism. We are grateful to those who have reached out, made statements of allyship and used their platforms to signal their commitment to dismantling this vicious, age-old form of hate. We appreciate your integrity and humanity in ways we can’t fully express in words.
Going forward, there are a few uncomfortable truths we need our friends and allies to know:
First, standing up for Jews held hostage in a synagogue is comparatively easy. Most contemporary manifestations of antisemitism are not this straightforward, not this violent, and not this obviously identifiable. To do the hard work, our allies must commit to learning how to identify and aggressively confront antisemitism within their own communities and ideological spaces, where they have greater credibility and thus, potential for impact.
Second, antisemitism cannot be fought effectively when the vast majority of Jews are silenced, or when fringe elements of our community are tokenized to speak over the voices of Jews affected every day by rising anti-Jewish hate. Difficult as it may be, now is a good time––an urgent time––to learn about, understand and confront the antisemitism that manifests as demonization and dehumanization of “Zionists,” working to erase the intrinsic and inseparable nature of Zionism to Jewish identity and the undeniable relationship between the Jewish people and the land––and state––of Israel.
Thus, it isn’t a coincidence that the synagogue attacked last weekend is called Beth Israel, and that Jewish houses of worship the world over frequently have the words “Israel” or “Zion” in their names. The Jewish people, the “children of Zion,” the “people of Israel,” have prayed in the direction of our Temple in Jerusalem for thousands of years. After colonization by dozens of imperial empires, throughout exile from our homeland, Jews have, through constant prayer, expressed our longing to return. Israel and Zion cannot be disentangled from the soul of a Jew.
This means that to be an ally, one must understand the interconnected nature of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It also means recognizing that standing with Jews does not mean standing against Palestinians––and that standing up for Palestinians must not mean standing against Jews. It means welcoming Zionists, for this is the only way to truly welcome Jews.
Third, know that anti-Jewish prejudice––whether in the form of implicit bias, overt bigotry, or even ostensible admiration of Jews––can quickly become deadly. This weekend’s events show that the internalization of one of the most ubiquitous classical tropes––the idea that Jews are disproportionately powerful and influential––can be a straight line from bias to violence. The hostage-taker’s goal was apparently to free Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted terrorist imprisoned at a federal facility near Congregation Beth Israel. The way he intended to accomplish his goal was to leverage “supernatural” “Jewish power.” He believed holding Jews hostage in Texas would give him access to other powerful Jews, and ultimately, to the levers of power in the United States government, which, in his mind, are controlled by Jews. Even if you thought “Jewish power” was a compliment, throughout history, this trope has led to Jewish bloodshed.
Tropes and stereotypes associated with Jews are extraordinarily dangerous––whether applied to a Jewish individual, Jewish community, Jewish organization, or the Jewish State. Recognizing these tropes is critical to being an ally, dismantling lies and protecting Jews.
Fourth, targeting Jews, as Jews, is antisemitic. Targeting Jews in a synagogue is antisemitic. Targeted Jews in a synagogue on Shabbat is antisemitic. Hard stop. You can’t fight antisemitism without calling it antisemitism. You can’t fight for Jews by responding to an antisemitic attack with blanket statements about “confronting all forms of hate” or with “prayers for peace.” Your willingness to use the words and name our community are directly related to personal and collective potential for change. Please, don’t be shy; your voice might save a life.
One of the most fundamental Jewish values is our commitment to loving the stranger. We feel immense pride that Rabbi Cryton-Walker, on behalf of all the Jewish people, opened his synagogue’s doors to welcome a human being seeking refuge. The terrifying outcome of that profoundly decent act has the potential to test our communal commitment to that pivotal value––an impulse we must resist, as we work not to let overwhelming fear paralyze our dedication to repairing the world. The support of our allies makes this work easier, and makes our collective fight for justice more achievable.
With gratitude for your solidarity, and hope for your allyship in the future,