Thinking about Colleyville

Thinking about Colleyville

There’s something about the nightmare in Texas happening not on any Shabbat, but Shabbat Shira, that somehow makes it worse.

Shabbat Shira is the Shabbat of song. Most of the time, at least in the liberal part of the Jewish world, it’s celebrated, logically, with music. Services, at least in the precovid Before Times, included more music than usual. Synagogues often offered concerts on Saturday night, at times beginning with a communal Havdalah.

But Shabbat Shira is so named because the parsha, Beshallach (Exodus 13-17 to 17:16, to be precise), includes Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea. My cantor, Ari Priven, has a voice of pure glory; when he sings Shirat HaYam on that Shabbat morning (it’s sung every morning, at minyan, but not like this), you can see the sea parting before the majesty and controlled fury of his voice.

Why fury? Because the words of Shirat HaYam are a war story.

The Lord is a warrior, Ari thunders; God is a man of war, the words say literally. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.”

I think about the disconnect between the militancy of these words and the beauty of Shabbat Shira every year, when I hear them. And of course this year they have the extra layer of horror at what could have happened. At what was meant to happen.

Listening to the story of Colleyville, it’s hard not to think that at some level this was a story of suicide-by-cop on steroids. Suicide-by-SWAT-team. But it only could have happened as it did with the underlying antisemitism that pushed the now-dead hostage-taker to go to a shul. Why go there? As Abe Foxman explains to us this week, it’s because the ancient, deeply stupid, seemingly ineradicable tropes of antisemitism seem to push the weak-minded in our direction.

One wonderful image that emerged from the siege is the image of the rabbi and his two congregants using their training, their brains, their fortitude, and their obvious, marvelous courage to outwit the villain with the gun. It is terrible that they had to use all those attributes, but they had them. How marvelous is that?

Another heartening truth is that American society was on our side, not the hostage-taker’s. When we hear comparisons to prewar Europe, we should remember that now the police and the government are on our side. That’s not the way it used to be. The rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was known in his community as someone who reached out to others, who was genuinely interested in knowing them, in developing real friendships with them. That means that when he needed them, they responded not out of duty — although also out of duty — but mainly out of love.

Obviously, we all have to learn from what happened in Colleyville.

I remember being at a shul in Bergen County one Shabbat afternoon a few years ago, a few months after the massacre in Pittsburgh. I was alone in the back of the social hall when two kids, probably elementary school age, walked in through the main doors. “There’s a door in the back there,” one of them told the other, pointing toward the smaller doors at the other end of the room. “But you can’t get outside that way. So if someone comes in shooting, we can hide there, but we can’t escape.”

It was horrifying. No child should ever to think like that. They were gleeful — they were having fun, they were too young to understand that a shooting isn’t a game — but they saw a shul as a place where bad things were possible and an escape route always was necessary.

Our experiences over the last few years have taught us that they might have been right.

We can’t let that happen. As Mr. Foxman says, we can’t give up. We must keep going; we must be proud. And we must keep our eyes open, and we have to know where the exits are.

And next year, Shabbat Shira must be about song.