Praying for Beth Israel

A message from R. Rachel re CBI of Colleyville, TX


Dear Congregation Beth Israel community,

There is nothing quite like the gut-wrenching feeling of emerging from the peace of Shabbat — a day when some of us avoid the news or social media — into the news of violence in a synagogue, again. Thank God, after eleven tense and terrible hours the hostages were freed. But in a time when we may already be feeling vulnerable, because of pandemic and climate crisis, this attack may heighten our sense of fragility.

Some of us may be feeling especially vulnerable because the name of the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas matches our own. Congregation Beth Israel means house of Israel: house of our people, our family, our community that takes its name from Jacob who became Yisrael when he wrestled with an angel all night until dawn.

Every Jewish house of worship, and every Jewish community, is a house of Israel. We are the people Israel: all of us. And our tradition teaches “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh:” all of Israel is responsible for one another. Or, phrased differently: we are all interconnected in a web of mutual responsibility and care.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom this weekend is dedicated, taught something similar. In his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he wrote: “In a real sense all life is interrelated. All [of us] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (We will hear those words in haftarah trope at this afternoon’s Tu BiShvat Zoom seder.) What happened yesterday underscores this teaching. What happened in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, impacts all of us everywhere.

After the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, CBI received a grant to upgrade our security. The CBI Board and I will talk about any further work we may need to do to keep our community safe when the pandemic permits us to gather once again in our beautiful building.

And I’ve learned from colleagues that CBI Colleyville let the shooter in because they presumed he was homeless and needed help. In so doing, they were living out some of our highest Jewish values. I don’t know how best to keep our community safe while also keeping our spiritual doors open to those in need, but I know that together we will work to find that balance.

Some of us may recall that after the Pittsburgh shooting, CBI also received a driveway full of love: posters and artworks and signs assuring us that we are welcome here, that the greater North Adams community stands with us, that we are loved and our neighbors want us to be safe. Even as we physically “harden” our building against attack, our spiritual tradition calls us to keep our hearts soft: to connect with each other, to cultivate emotional openness, to remember that we are all interconnected.

I am here if any of you need to talk. I am holding each of you in my heart. May the spiritual sap rising this Tu BiShvat fuel the growth of hope, and compassion, and safety for all.

Blessings —

Rabbi Rachel