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'Very few of us are doing okay, but we’ll get through this'

1,000-strong multifaith crowd rallies around Jewish community at post-standoff vigil

Congregation Beth Israel in Texas begins to heal with support from Christian and Muslim neighbors, along with 24,000 watching online, overwhelming synagogue rabbi with emotion

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

  • Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker talks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. The service was arranged after a 44-year-old British national over the weekend stormed into the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville with a gun and held four people hostage for more than 10 hours. (Emil Lippe/Getty Images/AFP)
    Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker talks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. The service was arranged after a 44-year-old British national over the weekend stormed into the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville with a gun and held four people hostage for more than 10 hours. (Emil Lippe/Getty Images/AFP)
  • A vigil at Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022. (Screen capture/Facebook)
    A vigil at Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022. (Screen capture/Facebook)
  • Rep. Colin Allred Speks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
    Rep. Colin Allred Speks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
  • Whites Chapel United Methodist Church, where a special service was being held, January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas, United States. (Emil Lippe / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
    Whites Chapel United Methodist Church, where a special service was being held, January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas, United States. (Emil Lippe / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

SOUTHLAKE, Texas — Roughly one thousand people of various faiths and backgrounds gathered for a vigil at a church five miles north of Colleyville, Texas, on Monday evening, showing solidarity with the nearby Jewish community as it began to heal from the hostage standoff at Congregation Beth Israel 48 hours earlier.

“While very few of us are doing okay right now, we’ll get through this,” said CBI Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was one of the four worshipers who arrived at their Reform congregation for Sabbath morning services and quickly found themselves being held at gunpoint for 11 hours.

The attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, sought the release of a Pakistani prisoner serving an 86-year sentence for terror charges at a prison roughly 15 miles southwest of Colleyville. He was killed in a firefight with FBI agents after the last three of the four hostages managed to escape the synagogue.

Monday’s vigil featured remarks from Cytron-Walker as well as a recital of English and Hebrew songs and prayers from current and past presidents of CBI and cantors from the surrounding Dallas area.

The CBI rabbi, who local and federal law enforcement credited for his “calm and collected” demeanor throughout Saturday’s standoff, was introduced with a 30-second standing ovation from the audience, one of several moments that had Cytron-Walker holding back tears.

Before he began speaking, the rabbi, known in the surrounding Colleyville community for his interfaith work, noted with humor the sticky note reading “Let them see Jesus” that has always been affixed to the massive church’s podium the several times over the years he’s made use of it.

Congregation Beth Israel Community Healing Service

We are strong. We are resilient. The time to heal our community has begun. On Monday, January 17th, Congregation Beth Israel will host a special service to help all of us to begin to put this terrible event behind us and be thankful for a good result. Thanks to our good friends at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker will be able to lead our Healing Service. Please note that social distancing and masks will be required, and there will be no filming at this event.

Posted by Congregation Beth Israel- Colleyville, TX on Monday, January 17, 2022

Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well-wishes and kindness and compassion” has been overwhelming.

He thanked those who packed the massive White Chapel Methodist Church from all over the Dallas area as well as the over 24,000 viewers on Facebook Live — the same medium that was used by CBI to stream its Sabbath morning services and where the first three hours of Saturday’s hostage standoff played out eerily for the public to watch.

“How amazing is it for us to know… that our small congregation in Colleyville, Texas, which no one had ever heard of before, [is being so] supported on this journey.

“To my CBI family,” he said, again choking up, “I wish I had a magic wand. I wish I could take away all of our pain and struggle.

Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker talks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. The service was arranged after a 44-year-old British national over the weekend stormed into the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville with a gun and held four people hostage for more than 10 hours. (Emil Lippe/Getty Images/AFP)

“I know that this violation of our spiritual home was traumatic for each and every one of us,” Cytron-Walker continued. “We will take the next step. We will comfort each other.”

The gathering appeared emblematic of Cytron-Walker’s efforts as CBI spiritual leader. It saw him thank “religious leaders, and atheist leaders and political leaders of all parties.” He could be heard telling the audience that “if you’re comfortable, you can say amen,” after finishing the recitation of an English prayer, determined to be inclusive to all.

Whites Chapel United Methodist Church, where a special service was being held on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, United States. (Emil Lippe / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Those who showed up for the vigil were also reflective of the CBI rabbi’s reach, though he wasn’t the only reason the event drew so many people.

Melanie Morris drove 40 minutes from Dallas to attend the gathering. As a Jew herself, she said she was touched by what seemed to be a heavy non-Jewish presence in the crowd.

“I liked the fact that there were some Hebrew prayers but a lot of English ones, because there were a lot of non-Jews in that audience, and the message was universal to anyone,” she said outside the church at the end of the vigil.

“It’s just really heartening to see that support that came out tonight and I hope that they feel it,” said Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Colleyville Stake communications director Leslie Horne, who knows Cytron-Walker from his interfaith work.

“Our church was also just discussing the possibility of helping them raise funds if they need to rebuild anything at the synagogue after what happened,” she added.

Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker talks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. (Emil Lippe / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Imam Azhar Subedar, who’s the spiritual leader of the Plano Mosque 40 miles northeast of Colleyville and is active in interfaith efforts as well, viewed his attendance at the vigil as an extension of his work.

He described his reaction as a Muslim to Saturday’s standoff as “twofold.”

“For us it’s about the work to establish peace in the world, but at the same time, working on the people within our faith to ensure that extremist ideologies are done with,” Subedar said.

The event also drew Texas Congressman Colin Allred, whose 32nd District covers the suburban area of northeastern Dallas with its large Jewish population.

The NFL linebacker-turned-US representative said he sends two of his children to Jewish daycares. “One is at a temple that could have been chosen just like Beth Israel, so I wanted to come and show my support.”

Rep. Colin Allred Speaks to reporters outside of Whites Chapel United Methodist Church following a special service on January 17, 2022 in Southlake, Texas. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Asked if there was something that could be done in Washington in response to the standoff that shook the local, national and global Jewish community, Allred also said the response needed to be twofold.

“We are going to have to harden our places of worship and increase security, and we have to also combat antisemitism and radicalization,” he told The Times of Israel. “Over the course of the pandemic, some of these forces have gotten worse.”

Despite the work left to be done on these issues, the congressman said he left the vigil inspired by Cytron-Walker, who despite undergoing his own personal traumatic experience managed “to lead others out of their own grief.”

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