Members and leaders of the Austin-area Jewish community expressed profound relief after an hourslong standoff at a North Texas synagogue Saturday ended with all four hostages safe and unharmed.
Officers responded to Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, about 16 miles north of Fort Worth, just after 10:40 a.m. Saturday after a man took four people hostage, including the rabbi.
For nearly 11 hours, responding law enforcement agencies negotiated with the hostage taker. One hostage was released just after 5 p.m. and the remaining three were released just before 10 p.m. Authorities confirmed Saturday night that the hostage taker, identified as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, was dead.
An outpouring of support for the affected congregation and Jewish community in Colleyville has come from both state and national leaders, who also expressed gratitude for the safety of the victims and the law enforcement response to the incident.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville posted on Facebook early Sunday morning: “I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support, all of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us."
"I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI community, the Jewish community, the human community," he wrote. "I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”
The hostage incident hit especially close to home for many in Austin's Jewish community, including Rabbi Daniel Septimus, CEO of Shalom Austin.
“Texas has a tight-knit Jewish community. But this one was very personal because Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, he and I were in rabbinical school together. … We know his family and his daughters, and one of his daughters actually has been in camp with my daughter in the past," Septimus said. "So it just became very personal and immediately had that sense of just terror, quite frankly.”
Shalom Austin, in partnership with the Austin regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, released a joint statement of support Sunday.
“Last night, authorities were quick to point out how impressed they were by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s composure during the terrorist attack," the statement said. "For those of us who know Rabbi Cytron-Walker, it was no surprise. Rabbi Cytron-Walker is the definition of a mensch; he is a true person of integrity, honor and one of the kindest people you will ever encounter.”
The statement acknowledged that Austin's Jewish community is processing Saturday’s hostage incident within the context of a spike in antisemitic incidents in the Austin area in recent months.
“The growing antisemitism that we are all witnessing and that we have experienced recently in the greater Austin area is unacceptable and we cannot allow it to continue. Our entire community has a shared responsibility to help us turn this around. This cannot become commonplace,” the statement said.
In late October, Anderson High School in Northwest Austin was vandalized with swastikas as well as racist and homophobic language. In the following days, a group of people displayed discriminatory and antisemitic banners over North MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), and on Halloween night, Congregation Beth Israel in Austin was the target of arson. An 18-year-old from San Marcos is facing state and federal charges for the crime.
Rabbi Steven Folberg of Austin's Congregation Beth Israel said the uptick in antisemitic incidents is increasingly difficult to process.
“We are resilient. You know, we maintain our ideals for peace and community involvement and doing good things and working with our neighbors, and we move forward. But it's hard stuff. It's a hard time. A really hard time,” Folberg said.
Sharyn Vane, an Austin mom, freelance writer and member of the Jewish community, co-founded a grassroots group called ATXKind, which organized a Rally for Kindness at the Capitol in November in response to the series of antisemitic incidents.
“It just reminds you of the constant vigilance that is required when you're a Jewish person in America or globally," Vane said Sunday. "So when something like what happened yesterday happens, it does hit harder because it's not happening in isolation. There's a broader context where the Jewish community is under attack in ways large and small.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin Jewish community reacts as Colleyville synagogue standoff ends