Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, is a hero. He is also a mensch. He is the welcoming rabbi who offered shelter and a warm drink to a man who sought help, only to have the “guest” hold the rabbi and three congregants hostage in a bizarre effort by the gunman to have his Jewish hostages help free a convicted terrorist in a nearby prison. After 11 hours of captivity, which included gun waving threats and a steady stream of antisemitic rants by his captor, Cytron-Walker was able to save himself and two other hostages by developing an opportunity to escape, throwing a chair at the gunman and running for the exit. The escape coincided with the arrival and deployment of an FBI rescue team. The day of terror ended with the killing of the attacker.
Cytron-Walker was quick to credit his heroic efforts to the security training he received over the past several years from law enforcement, the Secure Community Network and others, which he made clear taught him what to do in such a crisis and helped facilitate his escape.
Cytron-Walker’s comments are noteworthy. We have heard repeatedly how important it is for every institution and member of our community to participate in security training. But many wonder whether the training really makes any difference, just as many convince themselves that “it can’t happen here.” Colleyville and Rabbi Cytron-Walker make clear how important and relevant security training is for every community — not just for big cities with large Jewish populations.
With this stark experience in mind, we encourage anyone working in the Jewish community to arrange security training for their office, whether it’s for the first time or to brush up on previous training. This small act, for which ample funding exists, could mean the difference between life and death the next time a gunman enters a space, anywhere in the country, with the intent of killing or harming Jews.
Another clear lesson of the Colleyville story is the need for enhanced understanding and sensitivity within law enforcement on the issue of antisemitism. One would think that when a gunman enters a synagogue to take hostages, rants about Jews and Israel, claims that “America only cares about Jewish lives” and demands that Jews exert their controlling influence to arrange for the release of a convicted terrorist, it would be hard to characterize the attack as anything other than antisemitic. But the FBI initially concluded that the Colleyville attack was not antisemitic. In response to the outrage expressed at the FBI’s stupidity and at least some introspection, the FBI conceded error and the director of the FBI himself acknowledged that the attack was antisemitic.
We would prefer that there was no need for security training and that there was no need to ensure that law enforcement is sensitive to the many forms and expressions of antisemitism. But that is not our reality. Our community is under threat. We need to learn how to defend ourselves. And we need the understanding and help of law enforcement.