It happened again. In Colleyville, Texas, Aafia Siddiqui,an armed intruder who was let into Congregation Beth Israel as an act of kindness, disrupted Shabbat morning services and held congregants and their rabbi hostage for 11 hours.
What does this mean for us at Temple Beth Hillel? I’m not sure. According to a New York Times article, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and vice president Jeffrey Cohen both insist that they were not released or rescued – they escaped. They insist that “…it was years of security training, prompted by threats to other synagogues, that allowed them to escape.” However, the intruder was let into the building as an act of kindness, the kind of act that we as Jews are commanded to do. We want to be welcoming and inclusive. The URJ promotes “Audacious Hospitality”, yet we value life above all. How far should we go to protect ourselves and our children? Even if we had the funds to do so, would we want our synagogue to be a fortress?
On several occasions we have sung, כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר – לא לפחד כלל Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, veha’ikar lo le’fached klal. All the world is a very narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear. I see us on that bridge balancing between safety and openness. We cannot let fear overwhelm us, but we must also be aware of the all too real threats that we face. As I do for all of my messages, I end with Rabbi Hillel’s famous questions. I find them especially relevant today.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when? -Rabbi Hillel
~ Michael R Cohen, President, Temple Beth Hillel