A Jewish Response To The Recent Hostage Situation in Colleyville, Texas

On Jan. 22, a mentally ill Muslim man from Pakistan, Malik Faisal Akram entered Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, interrupting the bar mitzvah service that was taking place. Akram demanded to see his sister, Aaifia Siddique, and took four people hostage, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. It turns out Siddique wasn’t related to him, but he meant sister in the Muslim greater family sense. 

According to CNN, Siddique is in detention in Fort Worth’s Federal Medical Center and is serving an 86-year prison sentence for seven charges. The charges consisted of conspiring, attempted murder, and armed assault in a 2008 attack on U.S. officers in Afghanistan.

This disturbing event was captured on the synagogue’s Facebook live stream. Those who were offline for Shabbat, the Orthodox Jewish practice of unplugging and not using electricity or driving on Saturdays, were unaware of the hostage situation until they turned on their phones once Shabbat concluded at about 5:50 p.m. that Saturday. 

Akram spoke about his hatred for Jewish people and how he believed they controlled the world, the banks and he wanted to talk to the chief rabbi of the United States to ask for the release of Siddique according to CNN. He had a handgun that he purchased in Texas and claimed he had a bomb to keep the hostages until Siddique was released. 

Anti-Semitism is rising at an alarming rate as well as extremism against all forms of religion. The hostage situation lasted for eleven hours and went so far as to bring in the country’s FBI team from Quantico, Virginia to Colleyville.

Many other attacks have resulted from the rise in anti-Semitism throughout the last few years. For example, one Jewish woman was killed in Poway, Calif. in 2019, and 11 Jewish people were killed in Pittsburgh, Penn. in 2018. Jewish people should be able to pray and gather in peace and security without fearing for their lives just like anyone else practicing their religion. The rise in anti-Semitism has terrified the Jewish community.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, a reform rabbi, is known for his kindness and ability to bring communities together and believes in the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, which is Hebrew for healing the world. According to CNN, he had brought sweets to Muslims for Eid at the Islamic Center of Southlake, and the former center president, Shahzad Mahmud considers Rabbi Cytron-Walker a friend. The Jewish community does not want the event to divide the Jewish community from the Muslim community.

According to CNN, Cytron-Walker said he utilized his training from Secure Community Network, a nonprofit organization that trains synagogues on how to defend themselves in case of an attack with information from the Homeland Department of Security, to keep himself and the other three hostages safe. For instance, they threw chairs and ran once they saw that they finally had a window of time to do this after 11 terrifying hours of being held hostage. Cytron-Walker says they escaped, they were not rescued.

Even after this terrifying experience, Cytron-Walker believes that everyone can come together as different communities within the Jewish religion and across the faith groups and heal.

The Jewish community has amped up security measures and brought in the Secure Community Network to train communities in case such a horrific attack should occur.

Itay Touboul of the Brooklyn College Hillel shared his concern about the way news channels portrayed the attack. “I saw something different about this incident in Texas. The media published this event as a normal crime and not as a hate crime and an act of anti-Semitism, which it is indeed was. This makes me worry for the future of the Jewish people in America,” said Touboul.

“We were absolutely horrified by what happened in the synagogue in Texas. It’s a sad reality that synagogues in America today now need security, but security is the last resort. We need to combat hate in its origin and build a society where words of hate are not welcome so that acts of violence will not follow,” said a faith leader at Brooklyn College’s Chabad named Moishe Raichik.

“The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the foremost Jewish leader of the modern era, who lived through the worst anti-Semitism in history, said there’s only one way to defeat hatred: that is to be a light and a source of moral clarity. We will continue our activities, we will continue to be the loving welcoming Chabad presence we are, and we will continue to be a light in our community,” Raichik continued. 

About the Author
Aliyah Jacobson is a senior at Brooklyn College and a former CAMERA 2018-2020 Fellow. She lives in NY, New York and is originally from Austin, Texas. Aliyah is a preschool teacher, student, singer, sometimes actor (mostly musical theater), runner and a young Jewish professional who works as the Marketing and Programming Coordinator for Manhattan Jewish Experience. She enjoys writing, engaging with people at conferences and events and planning events. She plans to move to Israel in 2022 to make "aliyah" and do her masters degree at Jerusalem University.
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