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Repaired Texas synagogue reopens months after hostage crisis


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COLLEYVILLE, Texas — In the three months since Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three of his followers were held at gunpoint in their Texas synagogue, a new rug has been laid in the sanctuary, the walls were repainted, the entrance re-tiled and new doors installed. He said it was healing to watch.

“Every time I came back, I saw us moving forward,” Cytron-Walker said.

Congregation Beth Israel in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville will be rededicated on Friday, and members will celebrate Shabbat in their own building for the first time since the attack.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, left, receives a hug from Anna Salton Eisen at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

After the 10 a.m. standoff on January 15 ended with the remaining hostages escaping and an FBI tactical team rushing in and killing the shooter, the synagogue was left with shattered doors and windows, bullet holes bullets and broken glass.

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Synagogue founder Anna Salton Eisen said the scene reminded her of the abandoned synagogues in Poland still scarred by World War II bullets that she had seen during a visit to that country in 1998 with her parents – all two Holocaust survivors.

“I was standing in my synagogue this time, and it was just empty and silent and it showed the marks of the violence that had happened,” Eisen said.

Repaired Texas synagogue reopens months after hostage crisis

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, left, and Anna Salton Eisen walk through Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Repaired Texas synagogue reopens months after hostage crisis

Jeff Cohen, left, and Lawrence Schwartz together look at a cell phone in the lobby of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Eisen said the return would help the healing process.

“We are not defeated and we are not going to live in fear,” she said.

Leaders of the congregation of around 160 families said that when they returned from holding services at a Methodist church during repairs, they were struck by the outpouring of love and support they received . They also want to focus on fighting anti-Semitism, which led the shooter to their synagogue.

“It is my hope and prayer that there will be a greater awareness of how damaging hate can be,” said Cytron-Walker, who starts a new job in July at Temple Emanuel in Winston- Salem, North Carolina.

He was preparing for a morning service on January 15 when a stranger came to the door of the synagogue. Cytron-Walker greeted the man, who said he spent the winter night outside, chatting with him and making him tea.

Then, as Cytron-Walker and three of his followers prayed – and others watched online – a click of a gun could be heard. During the clash, British national Malik Faisal Akram demanded the release of a Pakistani woman serving a long prison sentence in nearby Fort Worth after she was found guilty of attempting to kill US soldiers.

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The hostages said Akram cited anti-Semitic stereotypes, believing Jews held the kind of power that could free the woman.

Repaired Texas synagogue reopens months after hostage crisis

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker adjusts microphones while testing the audio system at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Thursday, April 7, 2022.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

A hostage, Lawrence Schwartz, 85, was freed after about six hours. At around 9 p.m., the remaining hostages escaped when Cytron-Walker threw a chair at Akram and the hostages ran through a side door.

Cytron-Walker credited past security training for getting them out safely, including training he received from the Secure Community Network, founded in 2004 by Jewish organizations.

The Texas hostage situation came just over three years after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the United States, when a gunman killed 11 worshipers from three congregations gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. .

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“We believe training is absolutely essential,” said Michael Masters, National Director and CEO of Secure Community Network. “You very rarely rise to an occasion in a critical incident, you drop back down to your training level.”

He said last year they trained over 17,000 people and that number was exceeded in the first three months of this year.

Congregation Beth Israel President Michael Finfer said Thursday that he would continue to provide security training and that in the future he would have “much more police security than we had before.” past”.

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Jeff Cohen, one of the four hostages, said he was delighted with the return.

“It’s part of this treatment, it’s to see where we’re going to be,” said Cohen, the synagogue’s vice president and director of security.

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