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‘Calm, collected’ synagogue rabbi wowed FBI through 11-hour Texas hostage crisis

Dallas police chaplain says law enforcement impressed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s composure during Colleyville attack, notes how faith leaders immediately sprang into action

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

SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue during a hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, January 15, 2022; inset, Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP; Congregation Beth Israel)
SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue during a hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, January 15, 2022; inset, Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP; Congregation Beth Israel)

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — Local and federal law enforcement credited Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s “calm and collected” demeanor for helping bring about a miraculous end to the 11-hour hostage crisis at his northern Texas synagogue on Saturday night.

Cytron-Walker and the three other worshipers who made it to Sabbath morning services in the quiet town of Colleyville surely felt the main risk they were taking by attending involved being present at an indoor, mid-Omicron gathering.

But that became the least of their worries when a suspect burst into Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) and proceeded to hold the four Jewish worshipers captive, apparently at gunpoint, for the remainder of the day.

While the first three hours of the ordeal were eerily streamed on Facebook Live — as Sabbath services are every week at CBI — details of what unfolded, and why, remained somewhat limited in the first hours after the safe release of the hostages.

What was clear to law enforcement, though, was the critical role that Cytron-Walker played in the way the harrowing day played out.

Local and federal law enforcement at the scene “was really so impressed and genuinely appreciative of how calm and collected Rabbi Charlie was, keeping order and everybody’s wits about them,” Dallas police chaplain Andrew Marc Paley told The Times of Israel in an interview shortly after the hostage release.

An armored truck in the parking lot of Colleyville Middle School on January 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. (Emil Lippe/Getty Images/AFP)

Paley, who also serves as the senior rabbi at Dallas’s Temple Shalom, was called to the Colleyville scene some 50 miles away on Saturday afternoon in order to provide counsel to the hostages and their relatives as well as general assistance to the rescue operation as it unfolded.

Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (Congregation Beth Israel)

Bouncing between law enforcement’s command center at Colleyville Police Department, where law enforcement had set up their command center, to nearby Colleyville Middle School Paley where FBI and SWAT teams were gearing up, Paley said those he encountered “couldn’t speak highly enough about how incredible Rabbi Charlie was under the pressure and given the circumstances.”

The police chaplain spent most of the afternoon and evening in Good Shepherd Catholic Church, where a small number of impacted community members had gathered, less than a quarter of a mile from CBI.

They were greeted by seven faith leaders from the Dallas “Metroplex” area. The group included imams, rabbis and pastors who, upon learning what was unfolding at Congregation Beth Israel, had hurried to the area in order to provide support to those impacted.

“They were at the church for most of the day just being there, being present. Rabbi Charlie had a great following and earned a great deal of admiration from a lot of people in the community,” Paley said.

Midway through the crisis, the faith leaders witnessed the first sign of good news, as one of the waiting relatives was reunited with her father who had been held hostage, at around 5 p.m.

Faith leaders at Good Shepherd Catholic Community Church in Colleyville, Texas, with Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley in the middle, on January 15, 2022. (Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley)

The gentleman, in his late 70s or early 80s, was released by the captor in some sort of exchange with the negotiators during which law enforcement delivered food into the synagogue, Paley said.

“He was doing quite well, was appreciative and was in good health and spirits,” the police chaplain added.

Several hours later, Paley greeted Cytron-Walker’s daughter and his wife, Adena, at the church.

“She didn’t really talk a lot,” Paley recalled. “The conversation was really more of me expressing to her, as a face for all of the communities across the world, that we are there for them, are supporting them and are here to take care of them.

“She was grateful for everybody’s support and love, and… just knew that Charlie and the others would be okay and that they were strong,” he continued. “She’s a pretty amazing person.”

At this point, it was already 8:30 p.m. — more than nine hours since the ordeal had begun and Adena Cytron-Walker was exhausted.

The Facebook Live stream of Congregation Beth Israel’s Sabbath morning services, which turned into a hostage situation on January 15, 2022. (Screen capture/Facebook)

“I caught them right before they were going to try to catch a little sleep, but then I’m sure they didn’t as events unfolded pretty quickly after that,” he said.

Indeed, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the synagogue roughly 30 minutes later, freeing the three remaining hostages.

Charlie Cytron-Walker shortly thereafter walked into Colleyville Middle School, where Paley had the opportunity to embrace his colleague and friend.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” Cytron-Walker asked, as if Paley’s presence was the most out-of-place feature of his day.

“Colleyville’s where the action is at,” Paley cracked in response, and the two hugged briefly before the CBI rabbi was rushed off for a debrief with law enforcement.

“He was in a little bit of a daze, of course, but still had an ability to make a little joke,” Paley said. “But I did share with him that so many people across the world were praying for him, for his family and for the community.”

Police near Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, January 15, 2022. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP)

Reflecting on the whirlwind of a day, the Dallas police chaplain said he took pride in the way the Dallas Metroplex community came together.

“The outpouring and immediacy with which communities of all faiths responded in their support, and then the first responders’ apparatus moving into action… it was really just incredible to watch,” he said.

Colleyville’s population is over 26,000. Yet briefing reporters after the hostage crisis conclusion, the city’s police chief Mike Miller referred to it as a “small little town.”

“It’s not that really small, but that’s how he genuinely feels about this place and this community,” Paley said. “I thought it kind of exemplified the day.”

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