I’ve had to attend synagogue in fear. Colleyville’s hostage situation is proof as to why

Jack Spiegel, Staff Writer

Chronicle staff writer Jack Spiegel with his sister,. Charlotte, at Temple Sinai synagogue in Denver, Colorado. (Photo provided by Jack Spiegel)

On Jan. 15, yet another act of extremism took place on the Sabbath at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Four innocent men and women of Jewish faith left their homes expecting to share the Sabbath with other members of their kehila kedosha — Hebrew for holy community —  and ended up spending their Shabbat as hostages. 

Following the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway, California, I have found myself and others repeating the same sentiments: “My thoughts and prayers are with the Colleyville community,” “Check in on your Jewish friends” and “I am scared to attend synagogue.”

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, antisemitism did not magically disappear following the Holocaust. It is still alive and well today. The Anti Defamation League tracks antisemitic incidents and found that over 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment were reported in 2020, 12% higher than 2019.

Although an investigation is still needed to determine the hostage taker’s motive, no investigation is needed to determine the fear that Jews across the world have when attending services.

This bigoted man deliberately chose to enter the Jewish house of worship on the Sabbath to torture four congregants for half a day. Many Jews are exercising caution every time they walk into temple. Where are the closest exits? Where can I hide in the event of an attack? Will our security be able to stop an armed individual from disrupting services?

Over the years, I have noticed an increased presence of armed security at my synagogue. It’s a place where I would rejoice with family and friends, spend hours on end in youth group and join my kehila kedosha in prayer on the high holidays. I have spent nights in my synagogue and been told by security to not leave the youth lounge out of fear for our safety. 

I was confirmed holding a Torah that was desecrated in the Holocaust. Words, prayers and pages were torn out and destroyed. I will never forget holding that Torah for the first time, stunned by how light it was. I felt the missing pages and words. Just a few weeks later, during my confirmation service, I read from a separate Torah that survived the Holocaust, a powerful juxtaposition that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I am tired of people sympathizing with neo-Nazis and extremists. I am tired of going to synagogue in fear.”

— Jack Spiegel, staff writer

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was one of the four worshippers held hostage. He is known for his strong relationship with the Colleyville Muslim community. When speaking to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, the president of the Islamic Center of Southlake, Texas, Jawaid Alam, said “[Cytron-Walker] and his family are considered part of the Muslim community, and he considers us part of the Jewish community. He has taught us how to live with people different from you and love each other.”

Interfaith and interracial relationships like the one described by Alam are needed now more than ever. During Martin Luther King Jr. weekend an annual interfaith service is held in my hometown of Denver, Colorado. Leaders of the Denver area African American Ministerial Alliance, and Jewish and Muslim clergy join hand-in-hand, praying for a year of prosperity.

Antisemitism, racism and islamophobia plague our nation and society. Leaders of these faith groups have long stood together fighting against hatred for one another. Now is the time that those who are not in leadership positions must stand up against antisemitism. Whether it is going out of your way to attend a Shabbat service, lobbying elected officials to take a stronger stand against antisemitism or having a conversation with your Jewish peers to further understand their hardships, more action is needed. 

Maytham Alshadood (left), a Muslim, Chronicle staff writer Jack Spiegel (center), a Jew, and Rep. Jason Crow (right), a Christian, during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of service in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo provided by Jack Spiegel)

It was not that long ago when people of different races and backgrounds across the U.S. and the world at large took to the streets to stand up against the injustices committed against Black Americans in the summer of 2020. We are also living in a time where antisemitic incidents and attacks are at an all-time high. Those same people who took to the streets in the must also take action in response to injustices committed against those part of the Jewish faith. Antisemitism is an issue that affects all people, not just Jews.

I am tired of scrolling through my Instagram feed not seeing one non-Jewish person post following these incidents. I am tired of people sympathizing with neo-Nazis and extremists. I am tired of going to synagogue in fear.

I remain hopeful, though, following this incident. MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim, used a segment of his Sunday night show to stand in solidarity with Jews around the world. Hasan, speaking to Cytron-Walker and his Jewish audience, said, “You are not alone. We have your back. And in this moment of fear, hate, and violence, you can count on the rest of us.” I hope that Hasan’s words resonate with all – secular and non secular. I hope that everyone really does have our back.

I will continue to live my life as a proud Jew and attend temple with pride. I encourage you to make an effort to build interfaith relationships, and I plead with you to make an effort to condemn antisemitism so it can end.