I join with our College-Institute family in expressing my relief and joy that the hostage situation in Colleysville, TX, was resolved without physical injury to any of the hostages.
We held our collective breath over Shabbat. We exhaled as the new week began. And we welcomed the heartwarming scenes of first responders, law enforcement, and paramedics embracing the survivors.
A sense of relief came over us as the horror came to a blessed end, the tangible presence of the Divine revealed.
As the President of HUC-JIR, I am so proud of the leadership exhibited by our alum Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. A 2006 graduate of our Rabbinical School, yesterday morning Rabbi Cytron-Walker had simply hoped to do his job.
On a good day that work involves teaching Torah, leading services, and creating a warm and nurturing congregation community. It involves building bridges of understanding and shared purpose with his interfaith neighbors.
On a good day Rabbi Cytron-Walker does what all our graduates do: supports individuals in times of sorrow, celebrates with them at times of joy, and draws upon our tradition to build Jewish communities of meaning and purpose, communities that move our world towards justice and peace.
But yesterday was not a good day.
Yesterday was a day of horror, of terror.
Yesterday was yet another day in which Jews were targeted just for being Jews, treated simply as a means to someone else’s appalling ends.
In the Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 4:13) our tradition teaches us that Jewish leadership rests upon three ketarim, or “crowns” of authority—the crown of Torah (learning and teaching), the crown of “priesthood” (religious leadership), and the crown of “royalty” (civil authority).
On Shabbat, Rabbi Cytron-Walker embodied all three aspects of leadership.
He began the day with Torah study, conducted Shabbat services for his community, and navigated a horrific situation with the strength and courage of our people’s great civic leaders. Drawing upon all three sources of authority, Rabbi Cytron-Walker exhibited the very best of Jewish leadership.
So now we express our relief. We raise up our voices in hope and prayer. And we offer support to yet another community in recovery.
While our tradition raises up three sources of authority for leaders, the Mishnah also reminds us that a person’s reputation is most important, as it teaches: “the crown of a good name supersedes them all.”
The work of our graduates as rabbis, cantors, educators, organizational leaders and scholars, gives me confidence that HUC-JIR is educating diverse Jewish leaders with the multiple excellences our people need to embrace Torah, fight injustice, confront antisemitism, and build sustainable communities.
And as they do, their own good names will continue to be strengthened — just as the names of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, and all those who helped bring the horrific day to a positive conclusion have already been strengthened.