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May  we be Strengthened by Love

01/20/2022 10:23:29 AM


Sarah Avner, Cantorial Soloist

Friends, it is impossible for me to write today and not make any reference to the events of this past Shabbat.

For our Congregation Beth Israel community, it had been a beautiful morning. A meaningful Torah study had been co-led by Rabbis Folberg and Steinman (Congregation Beth Shalom), as part of our MLK weekend program highlighting Environmental Justice. Carly Cera, our Director of Education and Youth Engagement, Sophie Bernstein, our ISJL Program Associate and I co-led a spirited Open Door Shabbat with a focus on Tu Bish’vat. Finally, a remarkable young man was called to the Torah surrounded by his loving family.

My husband and I had just finished a delicious brunch of blueberry pancakes, eggs, and coffee when I received the text from Lori Adelman, our temple president, about what was going on at CBI in Colleyville. Amidst this fresh news, I sent our colleague, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker a text message – “sending strong vibes for strength and praying for a peaceful resolution.”

In my roles as visiting faculty and then Summer Education Director at Greene Family Camp I was fortunate to get to spend several weeks working alongside Charlie. I knew him as a kind, caring man dedicated to the education and nurturing of the campers in our care. I knew he was married with two daughters. A couple of years ago he and I had been emailing back and forth about a more hands on version of a first night seder that he had written and was hoping some of his colleagues would try out in their own homes. His creativity, wit, and joy for Judaism all came out in this work.

Of course, as Saturday played out and the world watched I wouldn’t receive a response to my message. I didn’t expect to. I only hoped that he and the four other congregants would be given the space they deserved to reconnect with their families once they were free.

What happened on that day is something each person who stands behind a podium and leads a community in prayer fears will be their reality. In the few minutes before every service, I take a moment to consider my surroundings much like I do when I get on a plane. What is my safest/closest exit from the space? Is the path clear or should I move something out of the way? How many of us are in the space? Where is my phone, am I able to grab it on my way?

Early Sunday morning, as I prepared to lead t’fillot for our Sunday school students from pre-K to 8th grade, I was struck by how grateful I was that our ancestors have inserted what is sometimes referred to as a ‘love sandwich’ inside our prayer service. Ahavat Olam (in the evening)/Ahavah Rabah (in the morning), Sh’ma, V’ahavtah. A poem about how God shows love to us, our declaration of our belief in one God, verses of Torah describing how we show love to God. I needed this love to show up for our students on Sunday morning. Our educators and children needed this love as we took critical steps in moving forward.

My prayer for all of us is that we continue to move forward in love. May our love and concern for Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and his community raise them up as they move forward beyond this tragedy. May these words from our siddur, Mishkan T’fillah, bring us comfort:

Let there be love and understanding among us.

Let peace and friendship be our shelter from life’s storms.

Adonai, help us to walk with good companions

to live with hope in our hearts and eternity in our thoughts,

that we may lie down in peace and rise up waiting to do Your will.

Blessed are You, Adonai, Guardian of Israel, whose shelter of peace is spread over as, over all Your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.


Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784