One year ago today, an extremist held four innocent people at gunpoint at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas as they worshiped together during Shabbat services. While the standoff thankfully ended without casualties, Colleyville remains a tragic reminder of the heightened risks facing Jewish communities across the country.
On January 15, 2022, houses of worship such as Congregation Beth Israel had just begun to host in-person services at pre-pandemic levels. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker welcomed a stranger in from the cold that morning, only to be held at gunpoint and taken hostage with three other worshippers. The man demanded to speak with a rabbi from New York City, apparently believing she had the power and influence to help release someone from prison.
Unfortunately, the pandemic of antisemitism was once again threatening the lives of peaceful worshippers at a synagogue. Lasting for a total of 11 hours, the hostage crisis ended on live TV when Rabbi Charlie and the remaining hostages sprinted to safety. Despite the immediate relief we all felt at that moment, incidents of antisemitism continue to grow.
ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) saw a record number of antisemitic incidents in 2021, and early indications are that 2022 will be another record-setting year. In 2021, ADL documented 416 antisemitic incidents in New York, a 24% increase relative to 2020, and 370 antisemitic incidents in New Jersey, a 25% increase and a new record for that state. Nationwide, reported incidents increased 34%, and included a staggering 88 assaults.
Though Rabbi Charlie would later credit ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) and law enforcement for the tactical training that saved his life and the lives of those held captive that day, training may not be enough to stop future attacks. In a country like the United States, where religious freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy, defense training for the clergy cannot be our best option in the fight against violent extremism. We need to combat the rhetoric of hate and bigotry that pushes people to extremes and leads to grave consequences for not only Jews, but people of all faiths and backgrounds.
Thanks to the overwhelming support we received from so many during the hostage crisis, Colleyville also reminded us that we have many more allies than enemies in the fight against hate. In the aftermath of Colleyville, we hosted an information session about how communal organizations can protect themselves and their constituents in partnership with Jewish organizations in our region who are working closely with law enforcement. ADL New York/New Jersey has also worked with law enforcement to better identify threats of hate and extremism in our community. More schools and organizations are utilizing ADL programs to combat antisemitism, bias, discrimination and bullying in the workplace and on campus than at any other time.
These examples give us hope that Colleyville could one day be seen as a defining moment in the eradication of all forms of hate. This new reality will require brave and difficult conversations in our schools, workplaces, and public forums. It will require a focus on the future to preserve, protect and build on our shared values of freedom, diversity, and justice and fair treatment for all.
Heidi Packer Eskenazi, ADL New York/New Jersey Regional Board Chair
Scott Richman, ADL New York/New Jersey Regional Director