"No services tonight. Watch the news," read a hand-written sign posted at one of Seattle's Conservative synagogues on Friday afternoon, a few hours after a Moslem American forced his way into the Jewish Federation building where I worked for four years in the early 1990s. Naveed Afzal Haq, 30, shot and killed Federation assistant director, Pam Waechter and injured five other office workers before turning himself in to police.
I was an active member of the Seattle Jewish community for more than twenty years before making aliya, and paid my way through college teaching at that Conservative congregation. How sad that the response in some quarters to the tragic attack against a fellow Jewish institution seemed to be to close up, retreat to your living room, and keep your head down. Security concerns also closed down a larger suburban Conservative synagogue just across Lake Washington in the hours after the attack, but most other Seattle area synagogues did choose to hold Friday night services, relying on law enforcement authorities to provide protection.
One can only imagine how grieving, stunned Jews trying to grapple with a heinous anti-Semitic terror attack committed in broad daylight in one of the most livable cities in the United States felt when they came to seek some kind of spiritual refuge and communal support on Friday night. But all they found when they arrived were locked doors, no rabbi, no fellow congregants and an instruction to turn on the TV on Shabbat.
Since it's clear that Jews all over the world are now facing the same enemies, it's too bad that those Seattle Jewish leaders who chose to turn inward didn't try to replicate what works for Jews here in Israel to ease the pain in the aftermath of terror. The day after the horrific bombing that claimed six Jewish lives at Café Hillel on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem in 2003, Rabbi Ian Pear of Congregation Shir Hadash sent an e-mail to members urging especially spirited prayer that Friday night: "In attacking our neighborhood, I am convinced that the terrorists were not simply trying to score a military victory. They were, I believe, also attempting to wage a spiritual war against all Jews living in Israel," he wrote.
"This was not simply a physical attack but also an assault on our spirit, a spiritual response is also required ... and that is entirely within our abilities.
The terrorists wanted to turn our community into a Jewish cemetery. We must proclaim with all our strength -- and through our tefillah that it is a joyful, soulful place where the exultation of being a part of rebuilding the Jewish nation permeates our very essence. When we do so, we will have frustrated the terrorist's goals."
Our prayer that night in the shul building just a few hundred yards away from Café Hillel soared to the heavens, as we found comfort and strength in joining together. The next morning after services, Rabbi Pear led us to the Café Hillel site where we learned a piece of Torah together in memory of the victims, in an effort "to turn the unholy into the holy."
Israelis learned long ago that there is no running away from Islamic terror.
It seems that it's difficult for some laid-back, peace-loving Jews in the Pacific NW who are so very well integrated into the general community and hold interfaith meetings with local Muslims, to assimilate the idea that they may have become targets of Islamic fundamentalist violence. Several Seattle Jews I have spoken with since the attack said they are convinced that the perpetrator was a psychopath and not a terrorist, since he had allegedly been recently convicted of lewd conduct. But this psychopath chose to drive an hour from his home to the central address of the Jewish community in another city, enter the building and shout that he's a Moslem upset about Israel before he started his shooting spree.
The Seattle terror attack came less than a week after the 40,000 strong Jewish community held a Support Israel rally in a suburban park. The Jewish Federation was the prime sponsor among 40 other organizations and Pam Waechter was one of the volunteers for the event that brought out about 2,000 people to wave the flag for Israel in its war against Hezbollah terror.
There's no doubt in my mind that there are those in the Seattle Jewish community who will now come to the misguided conclusion that had there been no rally, there would have been no terror attack. It's a manifestation of the attitude that has some Jews still believing that if they just keep quiet and speak out only for the rights of others, not themselves, then the bad guys will leave them alone. They fail to acknowledge that history has taught us that rather than rendering us vulnerable, public protest ensures us more protection and respect.
As in most American Jewish communities, only a tiny percentage of Jews in Seattle are affiliated with any Jewish organization. The vast majority is what one former Seattle Federation director describes as "the hidden Yidden." I fear that the latest incident will only serve to drive some insecure Jews further underground into the accommodating Seattle landscape.