The New York City rabbi who spoke twice to the man who held Jews hostage in their Texas synagogue last week detailed the experience in a sermon Friday night.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue also outlined her anxiety as an American Jew and exhorted her congregants to heed a prayer that the Reform movement has made part of its liturgy on Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day mourning the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and other traumatic events in Jewish history: “Blessed are you, Adonai, who makes us captives of hope.”
Buchdahl had previously acknowledged being contacted by the gunman, whom he reportedly found by searching for influential rabbis.
But in her sermon, she recounted the voicemail from Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, delivered in what she said was an “unfaltering voice,” that alerted her to her involvement.
“We have an actual gunman who is claiming to have bombs and he wants to talk to you,” Buchdahl quoted.
“If you can call me back at this number that would be greatly appreciated. This is not a joke.’”
On her second call with the hostage-taker, she recalled, “He said, ‘I’m running out of patience, and you are running out of time.’ I had already talked to the authorities. I knew there was nothing else I could do but wait and pray.” The prayer she offered, she said, was Hashkiveinu, an evening prayer that envisions God as a protector.
Buchdahl began her sermon by expressing gratitude — to God, to Cytron-Walker and the other three hostages who emerged safely from Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville last Shabbat, and to the security officials and Jewish organizations “who work to keep our communities safe in ways we don’t always see or acknowledge.”
But she said she had not been certain what more to say, in part because she knew that her congregants at Central Synagogue, where she has been senior rabbi since 2014, would “want and need words of comfort and hope from your rabbi” and she did not yet have those words for them.
Instead, she said, her own feelings are “ominous” and entwined with both the dangers that Jews face today and the discourse about antisemitism that was invigorated by last week’s attack.
“If you are a Jew in America and you are not feeling unsettled,” Buchdahl said, “then you are not paying attention.”
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