TEXAS VIEW: What we can learn from Colleyville synagogue terror attack

THE POINT: Remember Congregation Beth Israel’s welcoming courage versus the anger of attacker.

Emotions have been everywhere over what happened in Colleyville Saturday night — relief, gratitude, anger, fear, frustration, exhaustion.

The attack on Congregation Beth Israel ended without the bloodshed of the innocent, an answer to many prayers being sent up from every faith community in this region. We are all thankful for that.

The relief is almost overwhelming that what could have been a massacre of our neighbors in their own place of worship ended not in their deaths but with the brave actions of our law enforcement officers and the safe return home of those who were held captive.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker on March 07, 2007, is the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, in Colleyville. He was hired in July 2006, but officially installed in mid January 2007.

Moments like this give all of us so much to think about as the emotions settle, as we catch our breath and consider what was and what could have been, and as we think about why these sorts of terrible things ever happen.

There is an important contrast that it draws out. We are so quick today to make enemies of those with whom we differ politically. We see everywhere around us the belittlement and dehumanization of people who think differently, act differently, love differently, worship differently.

We should stop. We should take a moment like this to calculate the difference between something with which we strongly disagree and that which is truly horrible and terrible and deserves the name evil because it would steal innocent lives for its own ends.

The fact that a Jewish synagogue was targeted is a reminder of how an entire people have been scapegoated and demonized throughout history. It can happen again, and we must not let it.

Even as we think about these things, there is also an opportunity to reflect on what is good.

Inside that synagogue, where Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three others were held for 11 hours, great courage and the deepest human decency were on display.

According to reports from the live stream of what were to be services, but that turned into terror, the hostage-taker was welcomed with kindness.

“They let me in. I said ‘Is this a night shelter?’ and they let me in and they gave me a cup of tea so I do feel bad,” he said, according to The Times of Israel. He went on: “I like the rabbi, he’s a good guy, I bonded with him, I really like him. … I’ve only been here for a couple hours but I can see he’s a good guy.”

This is at the heart of human goodness, opening the door to the stranger, sheltering him, feeding him. One of the great ancient offenses is to take advantage of those who would open their doors to us.

There is more virtue to appreciate. Throughout North Texas, so much important work has gone into interfaith understanding to create bonds that link people beyond their political and philosophical differences, as serious as those might be.

Imam Omar Suleiman, long a leader in interfaith dialogue that has brought him great personal risk, was among those to speak up for his “Jewish neighbors” and Cytron-Walker, a friend he knows as Rabbi Charlie.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also quickly condemned the attack.

It matters that we speak up for one another and for those most at risk. American Jews are a tiny fraction of our population, but they are the targets of a disproportionate number of hate crimes, primarily from domestic extremists, according to federal authorities.

They are singled out and “othered” here and throughout the world.

We know that we are becoming an increasingly intolerant people — intolerant of one another’s differences and perspectives. Jewish people understand that comes at a terrible price when it turns from disagreement to prejudice to violence.

We should use this moment — thankfully without the spilling of innocent blood — to reflect on all of these things.

There were two kinds of people at Congregation Beth Israel. One was angry, ranting and threatening violence. The others had opened their arms and their hearts and called the stranger in from the cold.

The Dallas Morning News