The attack on the Beth Israel Synagogue in Texas, in which Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three of his congregants were taken hostage, has many in the Jewish community in America feeling deeply unsettled again.

Even if we don't hear about it, the statistics bear witness: Jews as a group are the most likely to be attacked for who they are. Antisemitic hate crimes and violent attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions remain at a high level. And they happen in Massachusetts. The attacks are scaring people — including, GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath and his loved ones, as he told listeners Tuesday.

Rath spoke with his family’s rabbi, Amy Hertz, from Lexington’s Temple Isaiah to share what local Jewish families are facing.

Arun Rath: I should also say we reached out to you because you're the rabbi for our family, but also because you know the rabbi who was taken hostage and led the escape from the terrorist in Texas, right?

Rabbi Amy Hertz: I do. I was in seminary with Rabbi Cytron-Walker. And he was ordained just a couple of years ahead of me and, really, look[ing] back on those years very — Charlie was just an incredible person. What we call in Judaism, a mensch, a really good human being, someone that was trying to build bridges, be a friend to everyone.

Rath: And he apparently threw a chair at the attacker and got the other hostages out. He sounds kind of like a superhero.

Hertz: Oh, definitely. I think Charlie is a superhero, maybe in that action of throwing a chair. But I would also say Charlie is a superhero because he's the kind of person that is caring and calm, and the kind of presence that would be respectful of every kind of person and try to understand the humanity in everyone. And that's truly his superpower.

Rath: Have you been in touch since the incident?

Hertz: Definitely posted on his Facebook page, and I was able to participate over our Facebook Live in a healing service that his community did last night, but we haven't had the chance to talk directly yet.

Rath: So as I mentioned, a lot of people are feeling scared and unsettled right now. A lot of people in the Jewish community in these attacks across the country. We've had incidents here in Massachusetts, including, recently, a rabbi who fought off an attacker in broad daylight. Could you talk a bit about, especially for people who are non-Jews, what it is like right now?

Hertz: Well, I think this news certainly at this Reform synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, it affected us to our core. And I think just that each incident adds on, one to the next, and it kind of continues to build up. And it just feels incredibly overwhelming right now to the Jewish community. These incidents of antisemitism — I mean, literally just this last weekend, Jews in a synagogue held up at gunpoint, and certainly scary for the hostages. But all of these incidents are so very scary for every Jewish person, adult — and kids I work with. Lots of families and families are struggling. It's a hard time.

Rath: Yeah, well, I think about — might as well make this personal because it is. But right now we're planning our daughter's bat mitzvah, and to think about that, I mean. We get to talk to you and read your emails, but tell us a little bit about how you are counseling folks here about balancing our lives with these terrible fears.

Hertz: Well, certainly. And it's not easy. We've all gone through a collective trauma, the Jewish community, those who are connected to the Jewish community, and we really need to feel that outpouring of love and support from friends and family at this time. And I think one of the most important things is a reminder to our community that we're doing everything we can on the logistical side to be as safe as humanly possible. But really it’s those feelings, those feelings of insecurity and really needing to to say, “We are here together, we know this is a hard time.” And we need the rest of the community — beyond the Jewish community — to reach out and say, “We care about you, that we are not alone in this, that this is not a Jewish issue alone.”

And so certainly the Jewish community will protect ourselves. We have our own security and things like that. But we need a collective effort from our entire human community. I love that Rabbi Cytron-Walker used the notion of “the human community,” and that's really what we need right now.

"It's not easy. We want to respond with humanity and love, but we are human too, right? The Jewish community, we're human and it is scary."
Rabbi Amy Hertz

Rath: Well, that gets to a point which I wanted to talk about, and it's a bit awkward because I'm a member of the news media, but I have to talk about this. I've been troubled by the media coverage of the attack. On the weekend, it felt like all the officials talking about this, including President Joe Biden, were kind of awkwardly going out of their way to say this may not have been an antisemitic attack. Which seems crazy, right? When someone is attacking a synagogue and takes a rabbi hostage — and, of course, we know about the motivations afterwards. But it feels like it compounds things even a bit more when it seems like these attacks may be reported a bit differently.

Hertz: I think you're definitely right. I mean, I've definitely spoken to colleagues and been reading online and things like that. There has been sort of a silent reaction, in many ways, from some colleagues in the area, from our world colleagues. I've heard from people not feeling like they've heard enough to say, “You're not in this alone.”

And I think really, for me, one of the things that I think about, that I need in this moment, is to exactly say what you just said: to declare this as something — this is an antisemitic act — not to brush it away or kind of push it aside. I think one of the most beautiful things about being part of a faith tradition is to be able to lift up the truth, the things that we see.

And we saw clearly this was an act of antisemitism. This was an act of Jews in a synagogue being targeted. And to not be able to say that out loud kind of pushes it aside and makes it seem less than it is. And it was a big deal and it was very, very significant to our community, and to the larger Jewish community and to the world community. And we should say that.

Rath: You know, the terrorist who attacked the synagogue — I don't even want to mention the name — said that the reason he attacked a synagogue is, according to reports, is because Americans only care, essentially, if Jewish lives are at stake. And I wonder about that, the truth of that and how we can — well, what's your sense of how we can build upon this and, as best way as possible, to get beyond this muddled understanding of it?

Hertz: Well, I mean, I think the story of Rabbi Cytron-Walker seeing someone who was in need, and reaching out to someone who needed to come inside from the cold and to give that person a cup of tea. We want to continue to respond in those human ways, and I think that's the challenge: to put up fortresses around we want to be places that are inclusive and open. And I think we need to really begin to try and see the humanity in one another for communities to work.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker was building those bridges, and those bridges are important and we need those bridges and those people to stand up at all times, both in the good times when we're coming together and also in the struggling times. And I would say that that's a huge piece of this, that we really need to show up for one another, faith communities and all people. We need to show up from one another and really declare our support and love for one another.

Rath: Makes it especially so much a blessing that he survived and can keep on the work.

Hertz: Absolutely. I mean, it's not easy. We want to respond with humanity and love, but we are human too, right? The Jewish community, we're human and it is scary. And like I said before, we've gone through this collective trauma, and we really need that allyship now more than ever.

Rath: Rabbi Hertz, it's always good to talk with you and thank you so much for talking with with a whole audience. We appreciate it.

Hertz: Thank you so much.

Rath: Amy Hertz is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah here in Lexington. This is GBH News, All Things Considered.