Whenever a major incident happens in the Jewish community, the political fallout is inevitable. It’s in our DNA. We seem not to be able to be happy unless we can get embroiled in a good argument. The near-tragic hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, this past Shabbos was no exception.
I am proud to say that our shul, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, responded immediately after Shabbos by gathering a sizable audience to recite T’hilim via Zoom within 45 minutes after Shabbos concluded. In my opening remarks, I said that no doubt there will be political fallout, but right now Jews are in trouble and our primary duty is to daven for them.
Truthfully, on my “Kids and Sibs” chat, I immediately predicted the reaction from many in the secular Jewish community. Within 12 hours I was proven right. It’s not important to detail my intuition at this time. What is important is that Jews, despite the significant differences among ourselves, were saved from possible death. To that, we say, Baruch Hashem.
To be sure, there were those in our Orthodox community (coming from the left) who felt we did not go far enough in expressing our solidarity. The OU, to its credit, issued a very well-crafted statement in which they expressed gratitude to Hashem for the successful resolution to the crisis, as the hostages were eventually freed by the heroic FBI and local police. A certain Orthodox rabbi in Judea and Samaria, of all the places, complained on a rabbinic chat that the OU statement did not specifically refer to the rabbi of the Reform temple by name. “Would they not have done so if the rabbi was Orthodox?” That was absurd! Is it not enough to express our gratitude that we must parse whether a name was mentioned? I also pointed out to him that in this case it was smart not to mention his name, which may have exacerbated the tensions. The Reform rabbi is very much to the left on all social matters and is anti-settlements, including where the Orthodox rabbi lives, although I do not know if that was the thinking of the OU.
Then, a founding rabbi of ITIM, an organization dedicated to the dismantling of the chief rabbinate in Israel, publicly condemned the chief rabbis for not issuing a statement on the matter. Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, in a brilliant article in Times of Israel, countered that it is not the responsibility of the chief rabbinate to respond to every domestic issue in the States, just as the Reform rabbinate does not respond to every issue either. In fact, at the time of writing his article, the Reform website in the United States had no comment on the matter!
To me, the chief takeaway from this episode is that we Jews are truly Goy Echad BaAretz, one united people throughout the globe. The fact that we question these matters, e.g., why we did not mention the rabbi’s name, or why didn’t the chief rabbinate in Israel say anything, puts on full display that we all share one core. If you pinch my toe, my whole body hurts. If there is a n’chamah (consolation), it is that despite the critical differences now raging in Israel between Orthodox and Reform, at the Kosel and here, we are still all Hashem’s people.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.