116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On Jan. 15, the U.S. Jewish community was singularly focused on the hostage taking of a rabbi and three congregants at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. You may have been watching a football playoff game or following a political rally and been unaware. That’s why I’m writing this.
Coast to coast, Jews were glued to their televisions, while simultaneously trying to explain it to children old enough to understand — as if one could comprehend that a place that provides respite and sanctuary for worshippers had become the scene of a hostage taking. It was hour upon hour of intensity that is difficult to describe. You could see it in faces, gestures, looks.
After the hostages walked out, physically unharmed, the collective exhaled. We embraced loved ones and thanked God for the combination of skilled law enforcement and the calming influence of a rabbi known for his warmth, humanity, outreach and interfaith work.
The fact that the hostages walked out alive does not mean no harm was done. There will be lasting trauma — and not just in Colleyville. Let me try to put it in context.
No matter where a Jew worships, no matter how long it has been since the last “event,” we are aware of where the exits are, scan who is in the synagogue and consider options. Because it can happen anywhere. Colleyville’s Beth Israel is tucked away in a residential neighborhood.
No one should ever have to hear the phrase, “the synagogue has been breached.”
No one should ever have to conceptualize their synagogue roped off as a crime scene being processed.
The framing of “this wasn’t really a Jewish issue” is both unhelpful and inaccurate; the hostage taker chose a synagogue.
Jews, who represent 2 percent of the population, are on the receiving end of 58 percent of the (reported) hate crimes. And the number of antisemitic acts has exploded to record highs since 2016.
Some are afraid to worship at their synagogue.
Our synagogue doors are locked. That is not how it should be.
Rabbis are trained to teach and to minister, to create community and do interfaith outreach, comfort the bereaved and counsel those in need of pastoral care. They did not enter the rabbinate to deal with active shooter situations or hostage takings. Their volunteer boards and lay leaders are not experts either — but have had to learn.
If you wonder why your local synagogue has a law enforcement presence, it is not by choice, it is reality.
Other religions have been targeted as well. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Black churches — have all been attacked in recent years. We are relieved there is no funeral to arrange for congregants or clergy — this time.
This must not provide an opening for Islamophobia. We must all stand as one against hate, modeling tolerance and support as an interfaith coalition did in Colleyville. One of the important tenets of our religion is repairing the world, Tikkun Olam — piece by piece, bit by bit — through actions in the broader community, through bringing people together.
There are not a lot of Jews in Iowa — but we are here. We are part of your communities, your workplaces, your schools. This impacted the entire Jewish community — for you, it may have been just the article below the fold of your paper; for us, the impact and trauma are real and lasting.
Janice Weiner of Iowa City is a member of the board of Congregation Agudas Achim and currently serves as board president. She meets regularly with the president of the Colleyville, Texas, congregation as part of a group of presidents of small to medium sized congregations.