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January 24, 2022 1:28 pm
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I Grew Up Near Colleyville, But the Hostage Attack Affects Us All

avatar by Basha Rubinstein

Opinion

Law enforcement vehicles are seen outside Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Reuters/Shelby Tauber

Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in North Dallas, I attended synagogue and religious school every week. Disconnected from my phone and social media on Shabbat, I walked the streets of my neighborhood, where friendly faces greeted me and invited me into their homes to enjoy Shabbat treats.

As I aged, I became more immersed in the secular world — including attending the University of North Texas — and developed a unique understanding of my Jewish identity and spirituality. I proudly shared my traditions with my non-Jewish friends who had never met a Jew before.

After graduation, I spent the most formative year of my life on a post-grad Masa teaching fellowship in Israel, a program founded by the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel.

In May of 2021, Operation Guardian of the Walls began. I had no way out of Israel, yet somehow, I felt proud to be there. For 11 straight days, Hamas terrorists in Gaza carried out non-stop attacks on the country. That meant 11 days of watching rockets explode overhead and hiding in stairwells with my neighbors as our entire building shook. After every attack lit up the sky, my phone lit up with text messages from Jewish friends and family all over the world. At a time when I had never felt so helpless and terrified, I was comforted by a newfound sense of belonging to the Jewish people. I could feel that they had my back, no matter the distance between us. I knew we were all together and we would be okay.

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Now back in Dallas, I no longer attend Shabbat services as hundreds in my community do, and January 15 was just another workday for me. I sneaked away to check my phone and was met with dozens of messages from Jewish friends around the world.

“Are you okay? What’s going on?”

“Please respond. Texas is scary.”

“Have you been able to contact your family, how can I help?”

These frantic messages shared an eerie resemblance to those I received during the rocket attacks in Israel. My heart was racing — the panic was too familiar, and I didn’t need to hear it from the news. Something was going on in the Jewish community, and I could feel it.

Finally, I received a livestream link to Beth Israel’s Shabbat service. A gunman had taken four Jews, including a rabbi, hostage inside of the synagogue. It felt like deja vu. Another extremist with antisemitic beliefs and a political agenda. Another Twitter hashtag for the world to obsess over until the next trend comes along.

My boss told me to stop overreacting and questioned why I cared about people I had never met. He assured me that everything would be okay if I just focused on work.

But after what so many of us have endured, my mind went to the darkest possible places. I wondered if another terrorist would show up to my family’s synagogue next. They had no idea what was unfolding, and I had no way to reach them on Shabbat.

As Jews, how are we supposed to sit idly by while under an active threat?

The sun set, and Shabbat was coming to an end. I was still at work and there were still hostages in the synagogue. My phone rang again — it was my old neighbor from Israel checking on me. The same one who comforted me in a bomb shelter was now one of the few people who could understand the pain in the Dallas community. It was a reminder of the unique feeling of Jewish connectedness I gained during my time in Israel with Masa.

As a Jewish nation, when one member hurts, we all hurt. That became apparent to me during the rocket attacks in Israel, and it was solidified during the recent hostage crisis in Colleyville. No matter where we live, waves of antisemitic violence will always come. It’s exhausting to constantly advocate for our people, rationalize our freedom to worship, and defend our lives to others. But we’re all we’ve got.

At 9:30 at night, after 11 nerve-wracking hours, the hostages were finally freed.

“I told you it would be okay!”

In an attempt to comfort me, my boss made me feel completely defeated.

Did he genuinely think this was okay? Does the new definition of okay for the Jewish people now include being held hostage in a synagogue? Does okay mean not knowing if your family is being slaughtered? I wonder why this feels so normal.

Basha Rubinstein is a graduate of the University of North Texas and a Masa Alum. She lives in Dallas.

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