Two days after being held hostage, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was in a pulpit on Monday doing what he is known for: bringing people together.
His message, in a service meant to help heal his Texas community, was one of bridging divides. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. on the day Americans honor him, saying, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
As the world learns more about a man known to many as Rabbi Charlie, reports highlight his philosophy – of love and respect for others, regardless of faith – and illuminate why he welcomed a stranger to share tea and join a small group gathered to pray.
“He’s always worked to expand our world and to let other people see what Jews are like,” Tia Sukenik, the congregation’s former religious school director, told the Jewish newspaper The Forward, describing a visit with an imam and mosque members at the synagogue.
Yet while building bridges in his community, Rabbi Charlie, a well-regarded listener, was also defending them – by participating in active shooter training, given antisemitic sentiments and synagogue threats in recent years.
Although heralded for his bravery in helping his congregants escape a visitor-turned-gunman, who was Muslim and appeared to have mental health issues, the rabbi would rather focus elsewhere.
From the platform of a Methodist church last night, he invoked empathy and compassion. “That’s what enables us to see each other, in spite of all of our differences, … as human beings.”