‘Colleyville’: unprecedented detail
Photos: Dani Menkin/Hey Jude Productions
Dani Menkin, an Israeli filmmaker now based in Los Angeles, released the documentary “Colleyville,” about the intense 11-hour hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.

By Michael Sudhalter

Earlier this month, Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville hosted a prescreening for the Dani Menkin-directed, written and produced documentary, “Colleyville,” inside the CBI sanctuary, where an 11-hour hostage situation took place just 2½ years earlier.

CBI Vice President Jeffrey Cohen — who was one of the four hostages — attended the event and held a question-and-answer session about the events of Jan. 15, 2022, when the system analyst professional’s suburban synagogue became the focus of global news coverage.

“I hope people see this film and realize the danger — and I do mean danger — of the antisemitic, racist tropes,” Cohen said. “People hear (these tropes) and if they say something loud and often enough, people start to believe it’s true. And when they believe it’s true, they will get on an airplane and fly 5,000 miles and hold people hostage because they think the Jews have all this power. This is the danger of the racist tropes that we need to address.”

The hostage situation ended when then-CBI Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and two congregants, Cohen and Shane Woodward, were able to escape. Cytron-Walker was able to catch the perpetrator off-guard by hitting him with a chair — something he learned during a crisis training course. One congregant, Larry Schwartz, had been released earlier in the day.

“Colleyville” is set to be featured at film festivals this summer and, eventually, this fall in the Metroplex, when it will be shown on Sept. 29 at the Jewish Film Festival of Dallas.

Menkin, a 54-year-old award-winning filmmaker from Tel Aviv but based in Los Angeles, said his company, “Hey Jude Productions,” is a nonprofit and is accepting donations to help bring the film’s important message to more theaters.

Distribution costs are estimated to be around $150,000-$250,000. Donations can be made at https://www.heyjudeproductions.com/donate. Those who donate will get a producer credit. To book a screening and speaking engagement, those interested can email Menkin at info@heyjudeproductions.com.

On Jan. 15, 2022, Menkin was on vacation but quickly learned of the situation.

“Like any of us, I was glued to the television when they were broadcasting it,” Menkin said. “I thought it’s an amazing story. I didn’t know how it would end. I was very happy they had a happy ending, which we pray for all of those stories to end like that, but we know they don’t. The level of antisemitism is very disturbing. We wanted to bring a story that shows why these narratives are not only false but also dangerous.”

Menkin has a wide range of films from inspirational documentaries to romantic comedies and sports features, but this was the first time he made his foray into the true crime genre. It took him two years to make the documentary with a crew that ranged, depending on the day, from two to 10 members.

“It is one of my most important movies because of the time we’re in now,” Menkin said. “‘Colleyville’ and the message that comes from it is very important. I got to know and love the people involved in the story. I can’t wait for us to start our journey to spread the message.”

Menkin followed the media coverage in the aftermath of Jan. 15, 2022, including numerous interviews with Cytron-Walker, who’s now a rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“I heard Rabbi Charlie speaking and keeping his values,” Menkin said. “He’s an incredible character. I thought I would love to meet him and I would love to get to know him. After all they’d been through, (Charlie had the perspective of), ‘I’m not going to stop loving the stranger.’”

The hostages, especially Cytron-Walker, were inundated with local, national and international media coverage, but Menkin was able to connect with the then-CBI rabbi through their mutual friend, Beth-El Congregation Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Fort Worth.

“I was very fortunate that the four hostages and their families collaborated with me and gave me exclusive rights to the story and exclusive access to their text messages and material,” Menkin said. “I came to that story from the human aspect and the fact it has an inspiring message.”

Because Jan. 15, 2022, was still in the COVID-19 era, few congregants attended the Saturday morning service in-person. However, it was broadcast via Facebook live and Zoom. Internal security cameras also picked up the footage.

Security camera footage of then-Congregation Beth Israel Colleyville Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker during the hostage situation on Jan. 15, 2022.

Menkin was able to utilize the 11 hours of footage — much of it previously unreleased — along with reflective interviews with the hostages and their families, to tell the story of the crisis.

“I was nervous watching the film,” Cytron-Walker said. “I was a little concerned something might be triggering and I really wanted to like it. It turns out that at this point, to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t had any PTSD associated with the incident; for that, I’m grateful. And I really liked the film.”

Cohen said he learned a lot about the standoff that he didn’t know while it was transpiring. He was especially grateful for the collaboration and professionalism of local, state and federal law enforcement — whose perspective was also shared in the film.

“I love watching cop movies like everyone else does, but I can’t watch them the same way anymore because of that old trope where the FBI comes in and says, ‘We’re in charge here — it’s our jurisdiction,’” Cohen said. “That’s not how it happens in real life.”

The film also covers the strength of the interfaith relationships in Colleyville, specifically among the Abrahamic faiths.

“One of the powerful messages that Dani addresses but could never be fully captured is just how powerful the multifaith relationships we had developed were in that moment,” Cytron-Walker said. “One group cannot stand up against hate alone. We have to do it together. We have to have the courage to prioritize relationships across differences, across conflicts — to see each other, to acknowledge and understand each other’s pain — and stand together against hate.”

Menkin and the four men who were held hostage remain in communication, especially through a group chat. One of the four men — Woodward, an IT professional — was in the process of converting to Judaism on Jan. 15, 2022, and has since become Jewish.

“(These men) did not choose to be in that situation, but that situation chose them. They are wonderful, kind people,” Menkin said.

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