‘We will get through this’: Colleyville rabbi says community will heal after hostage crisis

·4 min read
Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker (facing camera) hugs a man after a healing service Monday night, Jan. 17, 2022, at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake. Cytron-Walker was one of four people held hostage by a gunman at his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue on Jan. 15. (Yffy Yossifor/yyossifor@star-telegram.com)

To say everyone who was held hostage inside Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville on Saturday, or everyone in the Jewish community for that matter, is OK would be false, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said at a healing service Monday evening.

“While very few of us are doing OK right now, we will get through this,” Cytron-Walker said at the service, which was livestreamed on Facebook. “Somehow, together, we made it through that traumatic ordeal. We are so thankful to the source of redemption, the source of blessing, the source of peace, for redeeming us in our time of need.”

Hosted by White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, the service was open to anybody who wanted to show support for the North Texas Jewish community in the wake of what authorities have said was an act of terror.

Cytron-Walker and three of his congregants were at Congregation Beth Israel for their Shabbat service when a man, now known to be 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, a British national, entered their synagogue and pulled a gun after the service began.

Cytron-Walker thanked those who came to the Monday healing service, as well as interfaith leaders, law enforcement, non-religious people and anybody else who “sent prayers or love” to the members of Congregation Beth Israel during and after the attack on the synagogue.

“It has been overwhelming,” he told those in attendance and watching the livestream. “Thank you for all the compassion, from the bottom of my heart.”

The rabbi and two of the worshipers were held for nearly 11 hours as hostages in a standoff that triggered responses from local and state law enforcement agencies and the FBI. Akram released one hostage during the day and the others escaped Saturday night just before the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the building and Akram was killed

A senior law enforcement official confirmed to NBC News on Monday that Akram was shot by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. It’s unknown whether there was an exchange of gunfire between Akram and the FBI or how many shots were fired, but the official told NBC that the use of force was warranted.

The healing service served as an opportunity to reflect on what happened and look to religious passages, prayers from religious leaders and worship songs for comfort and guidance on how to move forward.

Texts included those written by Cytron-Walker, Naomi Levy, Rabbi Eric Weiss and Rabbi Edythe Mencher, as well as a prayer written specifically for the Congregation Beth Israel and Colleyville communities that called for peace, unity and remembering how the Jewish community has overcome antisemitism in the past.

Cytron-Walker said toward the end of the service that he was grateful that, unlike many other healing services he’s led or been a part of, they would not be saying a prayer for mourning.

“It could have been so much worse and I am overflowing, truly overflowing, with gratitude,” Cytron-Walker said. “Like any journey, we will take the next step. We will comfort each other. We will lean on each other. And we will understand that each of us will respond in our own way and we will have understanding ... even when we get on each other’s nerves.”

He called at the service for unity between faiths, saying that everyone should work together to build the world they envision as the best possible.

It was a theme repeated in the songs and passages read. Previous presidents of Congregation Beth Israel took turns after songs to take to the microphone and read the passages that called for strength, courage, healing and cooperation.

“We know how special it is that our broader community and our broader world desperately wants to support us on this journey,” Cytron-Walker said. “It will take time, but slowly we will heal, together. Together. All of us. We will heal.”

At the end of the service, Cytron-Walker called for his congregants to find ways to show love to the world around them.

Especially to those who “have had a hard time seeing the light because of the way they have been treated,” he said. “Look for ways to show that love as we look for ways to share that love and strive to live with human decency, something every human being is entitled to. We’re not entitled to much, but everybody needs that.”