After standoff, support flows to the 'changed Texas synagogue

DALLAS (AP), -- Four people were taken hostage at a Texas synagogue by an armed captor over the weekend. The tight-knit congregation dates back over 20 years to a gathering that was organized by a few families new to the area.

After standoff, support flows to the 'changed Texas synagogue

Anna Salton Eisen, founder and former president Congregation Beth Israel, stated Sunday that "it was a Jewish holiday"

The congregation has grown to 140 families in Fort Worth, Colleyville, since 1998. It also built its own synagogue, and hired a Rabbi known for helping build bridges between other faiths.

Eisen stated that she was overwhelmed by the strength of the support she received from the congregation during the hostage crisis, but that she also experienced a "painful awakening" about the fact that "our history will now be changed."

Eisen said that security at the synagogue was taken "very seriously, very serious" for a long period. She also noted that a support message from a Pittsburgh Tree of Life member made it clear to her that "this is part of our identity and how we move forward and react to this is something she needs to think about."

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life survived the massacre. He said that while he was relieved that Texas hostages were safe, his heart was heavy.

Myers stated that while everyone is physically safe they are all forever changed. "My community is well aware of the trauma, pain and loss of security that violence can cause, especially in sacred spaces."

At 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, the standoff in Texas was over when the three remaining hostages, which included Rabbi Charlie Cytron Walker, managed to flee from the gunman. An FBI SWAT team raced in and captured them. Malik Faisal Akram (44), was taken prisoner and killed. An earlier release was made of a fourth hostage.

Cytron-Walker said that he had thrown a chair at his captor, and they ran out. He said that they were able to escape safely because of their security training.

Cytron-Walker stated that returning to synagogue is not an easy task, but it's an important thing.

Cytron-Walker, a Methodist minister, said that the number of well-wishes, kindness, and compassion received at Monday's service was overwhelming.

He said, "While not many of us are doing well right now," he added.

Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas Rabbi who was called upon to assist families and hostages after their release, stated that Cytron-Walker was calm and comforting during the ordeal.

He said, "He tried to calmly and effectively diffuse the situation for those around him."

Jawaid Alam, president of Southlake's Islamic Center, stated to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that Cytron-Walker was a friend and has worked for peace and cooperation among all faiths.

Alam stated, "He is a peace-loving individual, a Rabbi, and Jewish leader but a true friend to the Muslim community."

Congregation Shaarey Zedek's rabbi, who Cytron-Walker was a member of as a child, said that Cytron Walker was there with her mother Saturday as the events unfolded.

Rabbi Amy Bigman stated in her message that it was hard to see another instance antisemitism. She said that although she felt alarm, she hoped that her congregants would not leave Texas.

Halie Soifer is the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. She grew up at Congregation Shaarey Zedek as well and remembers Cytron-Walker’s leadership when she was a youth group student.

Soifer stated, "From what I can tell, his behavior today is very similar to what it was like back then."

Since 2006, Cytron-Walker was the Texas synagogue’s first full-time Rabbi. According to the synagogue's website, Cytron-Walker is a married father of two who loves welcoming all people from interfaith families to LGBT individuals to families to those looking for a spiritual home and Judaism.

Eisen stated, "We have newcomers and we have people who are here for a long time and have seen each others' children grow up. We have been together through all of the ups & downs -- the joys & hardships of living." "We are close-knit but not a large congregation.

Eisen stated that she knew they were welcomed in the community but wasn't aware how much until the outpouring of support as the ordeal unfolded.

"Now, I feel truly welcome here. She said it was life-changing.

Eisen, who was cautious about going out during pandemics to protect her mother, a Holocaust survivor, turned 100 on Saturday, said that she began watching the livestream of hostage-taking during services on Facebook after being alerted by a member.

She said, "It was impossible to watch and impossible to not watch."

She said that it was particularly difficult to share the news with her mother. Eisen stated, "It was so hard for me because she thought that this couldn't happen here."

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