Nearly three months after four members were taken hostage during a prayer, a Colleyville synagogue is preparing to reopen.
On January 15, four members of Congregation Beth Israel were held hostage for roughly 11 hours. One hostage was released earlier in the evening, and the remaining three escaped around 9 p.m. One of the hostages was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who reflected Thursday on the support they have received over the past few months.
“I’ll tell you, it’s not always an easy thing to be Jewish in our area. It’s not an easy thing, especially for our kids going through school. We had really great relationships and still, it wasn’t always easy. So, to get the outpouring we received, it meant the world to us. But it’s also a good reminder that’s what we all need to feel all the time,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker. “All human beings need that sense, that I belong.”
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The FBI has called the incident “a terrorism-related matter” targeting the Jewish community. Online medical examiner records state the British national who held the four members hostage, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds shortly before 9:30 p.m. on the night of the hostage crisis.
Over the past three months, there have been services streamed online from temporary locations while the building was being restored. Congregation members will be welcomed to return on Friday. Anna Eisen, a founding member of Congregation Beth Israel, said the reopening is emotional.
“People I didn’t know in my community were praying for us. Churches in Coppell were organizing prayer services. I think, it made us feel…it was not expected. I’m a child of a Holocaust survivor. This is a rewrite of history,” Eisen said. “Every act of love, of friendship, of support really lifts us up. It was a wonderful thing not to feel alone, not to feel disregarded.”
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Mike Finfer, current president of Congregation Beth Israel, said the building felt “dark and cold” during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when all services were held online. However, he said warmth returned once the congregation did as well.
“January 15 took that away from us. I want to speak strongly for First United Methodist Church of Colleyville. They stepped up, gave us a place to be on Friday night and Saturday morning. They did lots more than that,” Finfer said. “There was never a need to coax anybody to do anything or to apply pressure. People just did what was asked and what needed to happen.”
Moving forward, he said he looks forward to the future of the congregation. They have also added enhanced safety measures like an iron fence, along with more police and security. They have also continued encouraging training for members, Finfer said.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker said the community’s support has helped them in the healing process and it is his hope, the congregation can also provide the sense of “belonging”.