For nearly two years, when I’ve gone to synagogue, my concern mostly has been about my health and the health of my family and those around me. My synagogue has had solid rules in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — on distancing, masking, vaccination. And whenever someone needed an alternative, there was a Zoom link to watch.
But on Saturday, I was reminded — as if we should need reminding — of the other worry hanging constantly over Jewish schools and places of worship: the fear that just by going to pray on a Shabbat morning, we were putting ourselves in danger; the fear that someone, with direct anti-Semitic beliefs and intentions or connections less clear, was going to come to services with the goal of harming worshippers or students or those leading us in prayer.
Saturday morning, British resident Malik Faisal-Akram entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas and took four people hostage at gunpoint for 11 hours. Remarkably, all four escaped, physically unharmed, thanks in part to security training received by the rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker.
It easily could’ve been so much worse. We’re not mourning the Congregation Beth Israel congregants or their rabbi. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention. We must pay attention.
It’s telling that training like Cytron-Walker’s has become commonplace in the Jewish community in recent years, as the vile cloud of anti-Semitism has grown persistently darker.
At times, the hatred has shown itself in clear, horrifying ways, such as in 2018 when a man shouting "All Jews must die" killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Other times, the anti-Semitic threat has been more insidious, found in symbols and protests and flags and ugly rhetoric.
The events in Pittsburgh led synagogues everywhere to step up their efforts. Many closed their front doors or requested the presence of police cars or checked the small ritual bags people use to carry their prayer shawls or posted an armed guard outside. But as COVID took hold, their attention shifted once again.
This week, the conversations surrounding security and safety and the potential for harm from outside our communities returned to the forefront.
"Hatred doesn’t take a break," my own rabbi, Gerald Skolnik of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, told me Tuesday. "This reminded us that the anti-Semitism threat is real and still pervasive — and that we need to be mindful."
We shouldn’t have to worry about anti-Semitism or the possibility of hateful acts while we pray or celebrate a joyous occasion, or when we send our children to Hebrew school or yeshiva. Nor should any religious group. But here we are once again.
And it’s easy, though deeply unnerving, to become accustomed to it — to not think twice when you pass an armed guard as you head to a Bat Mitzvah or a baby naming, to have little reaction when you hear about an incident like Saturday’s, to focus instead on the pandemic that’s still sweeping through our communities.
But we must not become numb and we must not ignore it. When I next go to synagogue, I’ll be thinking about it, even as I sit among friends as we raise our voices in song and prayer together.
We must be able to think about and address more than one threat at once, Skolnik said.
If only wearing a mask or getting vaccinated could protect us against hate.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall’s opinions are her own.