Opinion: Love anyway, even in face of community tragedies

I hit refresh obsessively last Saturday night as the Rabbi and three congregants were held hostage at Temple Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

The community of Rabbis in America is small. I know him. We all know each other. We only have a few seminaries where we learn. Each time I renewed the screen, it was with dread. Would my colleague, my friend, live or die?

When the siege was over and life with this new trauma began, relief flowed, breaths released and the anger grew. Anger that this happened, anger at how people categorized the attack, what kind of anti-Semitism this was or wasn’t, and even anger at people for offering not enough solidarity, not enough support on social media, on the phone, in person.

I live in Brunswick, Ga., a community that has lived through the birth of its own community trauma when Ahmaud Arbery was murdered in our streets. We, like Colleyville will do, are trying to become who we will be with this experience now tattooed on our communal DNA.

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Brunswick, Ga., Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman/Photo by Bobby Haven.

Brunswick, Ga., Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman/Photo by Bobby Haven.

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Brunswick, Ga., Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman/Photo by Bobby Haven.

Leaning into the anger is so tempting. Anger is appropriate response to the violation of personal safety, the breach in the sanctity of a house of worship, watching anti-Semitic tropes come to life through violence. As a Jew in America right now, I feel so vulnerable right now and I don’t like it, so I am angry.

But the anger can be seductive because it protects us from facing the hurt, the betrayal, the frightening reality that maybe we are not as safe as we would like to be.

From my seat in Brunswick, I am learning to love anyway. We are all just people and we all just belong to each other. No matter what. Maybe it is easier to see it here, where I know all the people involved at least anecdotally. That the “bad guys” in this story are very human because they are friends or friends of friends. And the “good guys” are too. What I have always known in my head but am learning in my heart is to also see the humanity of “the bad guys.” Not to say we are without anger, but seeing a perpetrator as also human, hurt, broken, like all people can be, we can also have more compassion, more love for one once believed to be an enemy. We are learning that when the anger gets in the way of the love, we end up exactly in the world we find ourselves in now.

Anger breeds fear and fear breeds violence. We are learning that this love we are called to in sacred texts and ancient wisdom, to love our neighbors, to love the stranger, to love ourselves, is not a feeling but an action, a series of actions, which turn against the anger, fear and violence. Actions steeped in the knowing that we are all made from the same stuff; that there is no “them,” there is only “us.”

As someone who has been peddling love in a world full of hurt, as you read this and think, “that’s nice, Rabbi,” let me tell you what living this is like for me. It has meant listening to other people’s anger and just holding it with them even though I am incredibly uncomfortable. Anger at me for my whiteness. Anger at me because I say, love anyway. It has meant building friendships with more precious people on this planet and creating a coalition to change our culture. And when a friend tells me, “I cannot pay the rent,” mobilizing our resources that various forms of privilege let us access, to cover the gap. It has meant spending time and money on efforts to show and grow love like billboards on our main street, saying Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly … together. Glynn. Love has meant handing out stickers which say the same standing in the cold at courthouses and community events. And it has meant the joy of learning new people, new experiences, new cultures and being deeply enriched by that learning. It has meant sharing my pain and holding the pain of others, doing life together like errands and meals, and it has meant that when a small synagogue in Colleyville is under siege or another in Austin is set ablaze, or another elsewhere is defaced that people show up with love and solidarity and sometimes even a bouquet of flowers.

And yet, I have found my own new form of anger. I am now angry at those people who are angry at perpetrators of violence. And I remember, love anyway. So, I am writing in hopes that you will believe what community trauma is letting us know. More anger leads to more hate, to more violence. Love, compassion, turns an enemy into a friend. Love stops the pain. I don’t want anyone else to go through any of this ever again, so please, love anyway.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker from Colleyville, my colleague, is an incredibly fine man. We saw his bravery and in watching him since Saturday, we see his pain. And yet, Rabbi Cytron-Walker shared the following words at a healing service for his community held in a church on Martin Luther King Day, not even 48 hours after his captivity:

“When we look out at the world in which we live, we fall short [of valuing everyone]. As Dr. King teaches. Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy to a friend … If we live that value, we might have a lot more friends we disagree with, a lot more friends we don’t see eye to eye with, but we will have a lot fewer enemies.”

If Charlie can be so generous, let us all follow suit and try to love anyway.

A man died. He was somebody’s son. Another person took that man’s life and lives with that trauma forever. He or she is somebody’s parent, partner, child or friend. Someone had to clean the sacred space of the sanctuary at Beth Israel and then go home and wipe down countertops and dirty dishes using the same hands.

People will walk into that holy room and still pray, still have faith, still love, anyway.

Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman is the Berman Family Rabbinate Rabbi of Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick.

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