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As Texas synagogue hostage crisis unfolded, many Jews prayed for captives’ release

Individuals and Jewish communities recited prayers designed for times of danger as worshipers at Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville were held hostage

Texas Christian University professor Adam McKinney, upper left, organized an online vigil in support of Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas, where an attacker took several congregants hostage, January 15, 2022. (Screenshot via JTA)
Texas Christian University professor Adam McKinney, upper left, organized an online vigil in support of Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas, where an attacker took several congregants hostage, January 15, 2022. (Screenshot via JTA)

JTA — Jews who pray according to traditional liturgy each morning recite a line that is usually symbolic: “Blessed are you, God, who frees the captives.”

On Saturday that line became painfully meaningful as a number of Jewish worshipers were taken hostage during Shabbat services at their Texas synagogue. And as the afternoon stretched into evening, Jews and Jewish communities across the country came together online to pray for the release of the captives, including the rabbi, of Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville.

A dance professor at Texas Christian University, located in Fort Worth, organized an online vigil attended by hundreds of people from across the country. More than 900 people joined an online vigil organized by a Jewish federation in New Jersey. And a synagogue in Toronto brought its community together to recite psalms, a traditional practice for Jews facing crises.

“Shavua tov. It seems strange to say those words, ‘shavua tov,’ a good week, because as we come together this evening we don’t do so for good reasons, for happy reasons,” Rabbi Steve Wernick of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto said during his synagogue’s online event. “We do so because yet again the Jewish people are targeted for hate.”

Indeed, as Shabbat ended, Jews around the world began the new week leaning on a tradition with no shortage of resources for moments of danger.

“What is the right prayer for people in peril?” asked Ron Lieber, a New York Times columnist, on Twitter, tagging several rabbis in the process.

Praying for Congregation Beth Israel

CBST Prays for Congregation Beth Israel – Saturday, January 15th, 2022

Posted by Congregation Beit Simchat Torah – CBST on Saturday, January 15, 2022

Among the responses: Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you.” Psalm 142: “Free me from prison, that I may praise your name.” And Psalm 121, which includes the lines, “God is your guardian. God is your protection.”

Psalm 121 was the prayer of choice for Rabbi Menachem Creditor when he filmed an impromptu service for My Jewish Learning. “Sing them, pray them and if what you need right now is the comfort of these words, please let them in,” he said.

Rabbi Rachel Timoner, of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, joined the online vigil organized by Adam McKinney, the Texas Christian University professor. She also responded to Lieber, suggesting the prayer from the morning liturgy and another prayer, a portion of the Amidah, that also references that God frees captives.

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