Tears and smiles could be seen at Congregation Beth Israel on Thursday as members prepared to rededicate the synagogue after a gunman held Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three others hostage nearly three years ago. month.
The synagogue underwent reconstruction due to damage caused by the 11 a.m. standoff on January 15, which ended when the four hostages escaped unharmed and the hostage-taker, identified as British national Malik Faisal Akram, was killed.
The congregation will hold its first celebratory Shabbat on Friday where they will rededicate the building. On Saturday, the synagogue will hold another special service with guests including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beth Van Duyne, both of whom have drafted resolutions calling for increased security assistance for places of worship.
At a press conference on Thursday, Michael Finfer, chairman of the board of directors of Beth Israel, said “this special Shabbat should show that we are a vibrant community, a growing community.”
Finfer highlighted the help the Colleyville community gave to the synagogue during and after the clash. He particularly noted the contributions of the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd who provided a place where police, community members and family members could congregate while waiting for the standoff to end; and Colleyville First United Methodist Church, which provided a space for the congregation to meet during construction.
“It was a wonderful thing not to feel alone, to not feel ignored. And that people were really there for us, and I think, you know, that’s something that touched people in the world. That we can really be there for each other, not just in words, but when it comes to an actual event – that there was this huge outpouring of love,” said Anna Eisen, founding member and first president of Congregation Beth Israel.
Cytron-Walker, who has since testified before Congress urging lawmakers to provide more security funds for places of worship, said, “I’ll tell you, it’s not always easy being Jewish in our region,” then added, “to get the outpouring that we received, it meant the world to us.
All over the synagogue were gifts, photos and letters sent by people from all over the world expressing their solidarity. While presenting a banner from a California synagogue, Finfer began to shout in gratitude.
“It’s very difficult for me to read this stuff at this point because it’s so important. And it’s so important that this kind of love [comes] without any kind of request – we didn’t ask anyone to do this,” he said after taking a moment to pause.
For the rabbi, the reconstruction helped his recovery.
“Every time I came back here, I saw us advancing. I need to see progress. I could see before the carpet was laid. I could see after laying the carpet. I could see the new paint on the walls. … Every piece of this puzzle was a bit of healing. Every piece of that puzzle was a little reassuring,” Cytron-Walker said.
Cytron-Walker will leave the congregation this summer to take a job at a North Carolina synagogue because her contract was not renewed in the fall.
Jeff Cohen, vice president of the congregation and one of the hostages, says he wants to emphasize that the congregation is moving forward.
“Very impatient, and that’s part of this treatment, it’s about seeing where we’re going to be,” he said.