Since I’m a clergyperson, I’ve had similar trainings, the ones about what to do if a person with a gun enters your worship space. The last one I went to, the security expert said, You are a sitting duck. Your worship space has so many entrances. You want to welcome everyone in. Up there on the platform, you are really vulnerable. The best thing you can do if someone comes in with a gun is grab a Bible and put it to your chest. Wow, that’s pretty vulnerable.
On Saturday morning, our local Rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was about to lead Saturday morning Shabbat when Hate knocked on the glass doors of the synagogue. Charlie didn’t know Hate was knocking, it looked like more like a person who needed to come in from the cold. Rabbi Charlie made him a cup of hot tea and listened to his story. Charlie introduced him to the other congregants who were present. They welcomed him. It was only after the service began and Rabbi Charlie turned toward Jerusalem to pray that they all heard the gun click. After 11 hours of terror, the hostages escaped unharmed. Rabbi Charlie’s weapon? A chair. He credited a similar security training for teaching him what to do.
Because of our faith, and our commandments to love, the people of God are vulnerable.
On Saturday morning, when my husband and I got the news that Rabbi Charlie and members of his congregation were being held hostage at gunpoint, we, like all of you, were horrified. I could not bring myself to click on the Facebook Live feed which went on for hours. I could not watch such trauma happen to our friend. I did notice Hate was alive and well on the comments on the feed and that too caused me despair.
We watched the story explode into the media and sat in disbelief as the President was informed and people from all over the world started praying and sending well wishes. To us, it wasn’t a news story, it was our friend, Rabbi Charlie. I met him a decade ago when we were beginning Connect GCISD, the organization which connects children in need in the district to community resources. Rabbi Charlie and I talked over coffee about my dream that all faith groups might work together, along with service organizations and others to provide for these students. He cautioned me about Hate then. He told me it was alive and well and I might run into it as I worked on behalf of Connect and, sadly, I have. His congregation, though, was among the first to help us with collecting school supplies and backpacks for these children.
Through the years, he’s been a friend to my husband as well, reaching out in the roughest of times, making him a cup of hot tea too, listening and also asking tough questions in love.
Rabbi Charlie is the nicest guy you will ever meet and also a bridge builder in our community among all people. It seemed so wrong for Hate to hold him hostage, so disturbing.
In 2018, when the awful deadly attack on Jews occurred in Pittsburgh at The Tree of Life synagogue during their Shabbat morning service, Charlie spoke out against Hate. He organized a service of mourning, healing and resilience at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville. My husband and I joined twenty-five community leaders of diverse backgrounds to participate in that service which over 400 people attended.
As we gathered with Charlie before the service, he encouraged us to introduce ourselves and who we represented and say, we stand together. I could barely say my part without crying. I’m sure my voice was shaking.
Later he wrote about that service, All the love and support matters….too many times in Jewish history we faced tragedy without love or support….Thank you for standing together.
Last night, I could not believe it, less than 48 hours after being held hostage and fearing for his life while facing down Hate, Charlie insisted there be another community service of resilience and healing. My husband and I watched our friend bravely show up, smile, take a few deep breaths, swallow his tears and lead a beautiful healing service for us all. Rabbi Charlie had a pin on that said LOVE.
He said all your support means the world. Then he clarified his words, when we support one another, we are the world. We show our connection despite our differences. We unite in standing up for Love over Hate.
How did Rabbi Charlie even do that? How does anyone on this earth come so close to Hate and end up at Love? How do you show up and stand up after something like that? It must just be pure faith. The same powerful faith that calls us to welcome the stranger also calls us to keep standing together to face down Hate with Love.
In last night’s service, among all the beautiful readings and music, I heard this phrase over and over and I suspected it was Charlie’s addition-we stand together, we stand together, we stand together.
As our community heals and stands together, I pray we can also look at ourselves and be more mindful of all the ways we entertain and embolden Hate. It’s there in the words, ideas, suspicions and discrimination we toss around so freely. It is there in the lies we tell ourselves and others and in the seeds of angry discourse that can so easily lead to tragedy.
Our faith makes us vulnerable. It also makes us incredibly strong. It transcends differences, forgives and builds bridges. Love is our only hope in times like these.
Hold a book to your chest and maybe you can survive, the security guy told me. Rabbi Charlie held the book of Love, the Word of God, there on Saturday and it was enough.
That same vulnerable Love calls us to Stand Together despite all that divides us. I wonder if we are up for it.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor, Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. She is the co-founder of Connect GCISD, an organization that connects students in need to community resources. To read more blogs, see her upcoming speaking events and to sign up for her monthly Inner Circle emails, go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com. The incredible sunrise photo was taken by Raymond Ybarra in Dickinson, Texas.