Shribman: Our welcoming nature prevails | Opinion

“He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood by him: and when he saw them he ran to meet them from the door of the tent, and bowed down to the ground…Let a little d ‘Water, I pray you, be brought, and wash your feet, and rest under the tree. and I will fetch a piece of bread, and I will comfort your hearts; and after that you will pass; for that is why you have come to your servant. and they said, Do thus as thou hast said.

—Genesis 18:2-5

He invited her in and made her a cup of tea.

Of all the remarkable elements of last week’s hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue – the live streaming of the incident during an online Sabbath service, the 11 hours of negotiations, the cold reserve of those who are imprisoned in what is ironically called a “sanctuary”, the rush to the door for an escape offered by the chaos following the throwing of a chair – this is the most amazing:

The hostage crisis began when Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker invited the shooter to Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on the outskirts of Fort Worth.

He thought Malik Faisal Akram wanted shelter and needed a hot cup of tea.

Thirty-two years ago, another rabbi faced a similar situation. Rabbi Ken Kanter of the Mizpah congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee, let a teenager into his synagogue; Joseph Harper had come the day before for water, so he was a familiar figure, clearly looking for help. The visitor handcuffed the rabbi, blindfolded him, stole his wallet and keys, put him in the trunk of Kanter’s 1987 Volvo, drove around for an hour, and finally released him.

“People come to the door all the time, asking for food, water or money,” Rabbi Kanter said.

But here’s what will surprise you: It turns out that Rabbi Kanter, who was director of the rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, taught Rabbi Cytron-Walker at his senior seminar on rabbinical practices.

What is more important than the most unlikely of all coincidences is that the two rabbis – the one held hostage in his own shrine, the one abducted and thrown into the trunk of his own car – acted with the kindness that is at the heart not only of Judaism but also of all religions.

“It relates to a sense of clergy of all faiths trying to serve the community, whether because of poverty or hunger,” Rabbi Kanter told me.

It is clear that Rabbi Cytron-Walker – a controversial figure in his own congregation, where a search committee for his replacement was to meet two days before the hostage crisis was to take place – was a good student, to his detriment for this harrowing Sabbath, but perhaps provide a lesson for all of us.

Not that you should let a gunman into your home or place of worship. Instead, it is this that opens doors abroad, and – here is the lesson for our politicians, and for us – to those whose backgrounds, appearances, perspectives and opinions differ from ours, can be dangerous. But also that open doors are essential for us to preserve and value our humanity.

So Rabbi Kanter was not at all surprised to discover that history was repeating itself with the young man he was sitting in front of in a seminar room at the Cincinnati seminary.

“It was very characteristic of him,” said Rabbi Kanter, who, like Zelig, officiated at my daughter’s wedding. “That’s the kind of career he had as a student and that’s his personal style, of warmth and friendship, as a practicing rabbi. He’s a sweet, kind, caring guy. The fact that her first thought is to greet her and offer her a cup of tea is very Charlie.

A longtime associate of the Texas rabbi was also not stunned when he learned what his friend had done.

“It’s not at all surprising that Charlie invited him,” said Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, who has known Rabbi Cytron-Walker for many years and whose wife was in a group. young Jews with him in Lansing, Michigan. “This is who Charlie is – and this is what we all want to be as rabbis. The sad reality of living in America in 2022 is that these kind gestures can now lead to hardship.

“Just because something terrible happened to Charlie doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same thing,” Fellman continued. “That’s who we are as humans at our best.”

It’s hard to see humans at their best after seeing humans at their worst. and yet the two rabbis are not the only clergy who, with tragic results, have invited the stranger.

“Our calling,” Reverend Clementa Pinckney once said of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but… life and the community in which our congregation resides.”

His expansive view of “community” led to Dylann Roof’s presence at a Bible study session in June 2015, where the visitor pulled out a gun and proclaimed that black people were “taking over the country. “. Then he shot and killed nine people.

“Blinded with hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and this Bible study group – the light of love that shone as they opened the doors of the church and invited a stranger to join their prayer circle,” President Barack Obama said. said at Reverend Pinckney’s funeral. Then he sang, a cappella, “Amazing Grace”. He could have continued until the second stanza, which opens like this:

“It was grace that taught my heart to fear

And thanks to my eased fears”

Shortly after his escape from his own sanctuary, Rabbi Cytron-Walker noted that a synagogue is called a beit knesset, a gathering house. In his faith, and surely in yours, the doormat is at the door.

“Inviting – welcoming – the stranger is an essential part of Christianity,” said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh. “What happened in Texas is an example of what plagues our society today and describes how kindness, care and concern often collide with hate, anger and prejudice.”

The Beth Israel episode had a happy resolution, ending with hope that the doors of country and politics will open. The reason: to borrow the title of a 1953 play by Robert Anderson, for tea and sympathy.

North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is the former editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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