There’s really no difference between actual hostage takers and those who legislate hate

I first learned about the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday, Jan. 15, when an out-of-state friend texted, asking if that was my synagogue and if I were OK. That was followed by a barrage of emails, text messages, tweets and Facebook posts.

As president of my temple, I tweeted out a message on behalf of everyone at Congregation Beth El Binah that we were praying for the safety of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and the other three hostages. And all I could think of was the misplaced rage on the part of the hostage-taker. No one in the Jewish community in the DFW area has done more to develop friendships with members of the Muslim community than Rabbi Cytron-Walker.

But terrorism and hate aren’t logical.

CAIR — Council on American–Islamic Relations — was clear on its position during the hostage situation, releasing the following statement: “We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.”

And Muslim Advocates tweeted, “We are appalled by the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel and condemn this attack on a house of worship. We stand in solidarity with the rabbi and congregation. We pray for a peaceful end to this travesty and for the perpetrator to be brought to justice.”At this point we can only speculate why Beth Israel was the chosen target. Because it’s in Tarrant County where Lady al-Qaeda Aafia Siddiqui is being held? Because it’s remote, small and difficult to even find? Likely fewer people would be there than at Fort Worth’s two large synagogues, therefore making it an easier target?

Who knows.

But what I do know is that even though one of my synagogue’s members is one of the loudest voices in the area on refugee rights, we don’t get a pass when it comes to terrorism.

Linda Evans represents Congregation Beth El Binah on the Thanks-Giving Square Interfaith Council. She is an assistant to Faith Forward Dallas and serves on the International Rescue Committee. Her work resettling refugees in the area has been tireless.

Linda has brought a number of Muslim refugees to Beth El Binah services. What a wonderful experience to meet some of our new neighbors while at the same time heartbreaking to hear their horrifying stories. As terrible as those experiences were, the evening always ended with hugs as we welcomed our new friends to Texas. They were safe now.

But are they really safe?

One of the goals of terrorism isn’t just to harm hostages. The target of Saturday’s terrorist incident was every Jewish person in the DFW area. Every Jewish person in Texas worries, “Are we next?” Every Jewish person in the U.S. and around the world worries, “Will someone do a copycat event?”

And the terror spreads beyond the Jewish community.

The Rev. Ann Willet, pastor of Northaven Church where my synagogue meets, has found that not everyone in Dallas is thrilled that her church hosts us, so she has added security.

I heard from the folks at Brite Divinity School; not everyone in Fort Worth cheers their welcome of LGBTQ divinity students.

I heard from the Rev. Neil Thomas of Cathedral of Hope who deals with anti-LGBTQ hate as a daily routine in his job.

As anti-Semitic attacks rose to new levels over the past year, and murders of trans women of color rose to a new high last year, the number of anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation filed across the country, especially here in Texas, also rose to a new high.

Instead of protecting those who are being attacked, legislators actually went on the attack. Governors, who should be protecting their citizens, gleefully signed bills targeting trans youth into law — including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

To be classified a terrorist, you don’t have to be the one taking hostages. Remember, bin Laden didn’t fly the planes into the World Trade Center; he just organized the terrorist plot.

Legislators who wrote and voted for HB 25 didn’t personally physically harm any transgender children. They just signaled that hatred of trans kids was justified. Abbott only signed HB 25 into law. But in doing so, he indicated to hate groups that the transgender community is a viable target.

The deaths of any transgender children in Texas, either by suicide or violence, will be on their heads. And that equates them with terrorists.

Is leadership possible? Republican former Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus prevented any anti-transgender legislation from getting to the floor of the House. He said he didn’t want the death of a transgender child to be on his head. He understood leadership.

Back to Congregation Beth Israel: While he certainly didn’t ask for fame, now that he has it, may Rabbi Charlie use his unwanted new celebrity to continue to spread peace and to teach the rest of us through his friendship with members of the Muslim community. Maybe that lesson will rub off on the Texas Legislature, too.

David Taffet is senior staff writer for Dallas Voice. He is also president of Congregation Beth El Binah.