Beth Israel looks ahead as synagogue reopens
Photos: Sharon Wisch-Ray
Congregation Beth Israel thanks the community with a sign that hangs on its new iron fence that surrounds the synagogue.

Synagogue is repaired after damage from Jan. 15 hostage crisis

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Colleyville Congregation Beth Israel welcomed congregants and friends back to the synagogue last Shabbat, April 8 and 9. It was the first time the congregation was together in their own sanctuary since a terrorist took three members and Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker hostage Saturday, Jan. 15, during Shabbat services. 

An 11-hour ordeal ensued, culminating in a daring escape by Cytron-Walker and two of the hostages. One hostage was released earlier in the day. The gunman was killed by the FBI when they breached the synagogue moments after the trio escaped. The synagogue sustained significant damage, and the congregation met at the Colleyville Center and at the Colleyville United Methodist Church while repairs were made.

In February, Cytron-Walker told the TJP, they had hoped to be back in the synagogue by Pesach, and they met that goal. They are expecting about 100 people for their Passover Seder this weekend.

“Coming back is going to be very emotional for us. We are feeling very resolved and strengthened to reclaim our house of God. We are grateful everyone survived and is doing well and  this is our homecoming,” said Anna Eisen, CBI founding president, Thursday, April 7, at a briefing and tour for the press.

Inside and out, the campus is adorned with messages of love and support. They come from neighbors in Colleyville and Southlake who formed Hearts of Colleyville, sending messages written on hearts of various sizes. They come from fellow victims of terrorist attacks, like the piece hanging in the synagogue’s hallway painted by children from Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, California. On April 27, 2019, the last day of Passover, Chabad of Poway was attacked by a gunman. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three others were wounded.

Mike Finfer, CBI president, said that among the many things that touched him was how people stepped up to support the congregation without even being asked.

“It’s all very hard reading [the messages from the children of Poway] — reading this stuff at this point. Because it’s so important that [they showed] this kind of love without any sort of ask. We didn’t ask anybody to do this. And the same thing, that the community stepped up and helped us with things without being asked,” said Finfer. He explained that from messages, cards and posters to actual repair of the synagogue by contractors, people have gone above and beyond for the congregation out of the goodness of their hearts.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker echoed Finfer’s sentiments.

“What happened to us in the aftermath, during and afterward, all of the love, all the prayers, all the support, the thousands and thousands of emails, and notes, and donations and contributions. So much, did not have to happen. It didn’t have to happen. And what you’re hearing is that we didn’t necessarily expect all of that love and support. Because, it could have gone a different way. We could have felt so much worse. It could have been so much worse,” said Cytron-Walker. “And, it meant the world to us.”

Joining Cytron-Walker, Eisen and Finfer and sharing remarks were Jeff Cohen and Lawrence “Larry” Schwartz, the pair survived the Jan. 15 ordeal alongside Cytron-Walker.

“I’m a little overcome by the excitement of this weekend,” said Cohen, who also serves as chair of the synagogue’s security committee. “I am so excited to be coming back, and to be coming in here and with everything that’s going on — very much looking forward — and that’s part of that process to look at where we are going to be,” he said.

Larry Schwartz added that the support and kindness from the congregation and community had been overwhelming.

“This has been a wonderful, wonderful community, not just in our synagogue, but throughout, and the FBI, particularly the police, everybody has just been wonderful. And I think that that’s one of the main things that we’re trying to impress upon people in the synagogue, is that we want to be friends with you, we want you to be friends with us. We’re all one family. And we certainly proved it on this event.”

Cohen  said that his experience Jan. 15 had made him passionate about the importance of not standing by when hearing an inappropriate or hateful comment.

“We all know some racist, crazy guy, you know, somebody’s uncle, whatever. And when they spout off, we just kind of roll our eyes because that’s what polite people do. We can’t do that anymore. And it’s not just antisemitism. It’s any racist comments. We’ve got to challenge them, we have got to say, did I hear you right? Did you really mean that? We’ve got to start doing that, to make people aware of what they’re saying, Please, it’s not the good people that we have to worry about, you know, most of us, that’s not where we’re coming from. But it only takes one. That’s the problem. It only takes one,” Cohen said.

In looking ahead to their homecoming weekend, Finfer said that Saturday’s Shabbat service would welcome many members of the area including politicians, law enforcement and the faith community.

“It’s about community and about the congregation and about saying thank you to everybody who stepped forward,” Finfer said.

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