SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, Jan. 15, 2022.
SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, Jan. 15, 2022. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images via JTA)

Because of his Michigan ties, Cytron-Walker has connections with many rabbis in Metro Detroit and Lansing.  

Reporting from JTA and the JN.

All four hostages at a synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were declared “out alive and safe” by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at 9:33 p.m. CST on Saturday following a terrifying 12-hour standoff with an armed assailant in an unfolding saga that terrified Jews worldwide. 

The hostage situation unfolded during Shabbat services, which the synagogue was livestreaming on Facebook. 

Police said one hostage, a male, had been released in the early evening, leaving three still being held. Reporters and bystanders heard a loud bang and what sounded like gunshots around 9:30 p.m. local time; Abbott sent his tweet shortly after. 

“Prayers answered,” he wrote. “All hostages are out alive and safe.”  

Texas law enforcement later confirmed this statement and announced that the perpetrator is dead.  

The assailant had been holding Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, originally from Lansing and a 1998 graduate of the University of Michigan, and three congregants hostage at Congregation Beth Israel (CBI), a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, a suburb north of Fort Worth. 

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is being held hostage along with reportedly three congregants inside Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Jan. 15, 2022.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was being held hostage along with reportedly three congregants inside Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Jan. 15, 2022.

As of 11:30 a.m. CST, police said they were conducting SWAT operations around the building. The synagogue’s services were being livestreamed on Facebook, where a man could be heard yelling, talking about his children, sister and Islam, and saying he believes he is going to die. Police reportedly established phone contact with the man.  

The FBI led negotiations with the hostage taker. The White House was said to be “monitoring” the situation, along with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.  

Harold Gernsbacher, chairman of the board of Secure Community Network (SCN), a national umbrella organization whose mission is to provide security systems and training to the Jewish community, was at the scene in Texas. He told the JN that community members and the rabbi had received SCN security training in August. He also said that late Saturday morning, SCN’s Duty Desk, its operations center in Chicago, got word that a situation was unfolding at the synagogue and alerted law enforcement. 

“The building was inspected for egress and exiting, and they were trained on an active shooter [scenario],” Gernsbacher said, adding these and related measures are important in addressing ongoing antisemitism.  

“The threats from antisemitism are only going to continue to rise,” he said, “and our community has to be diligent in being aware of, acknowledging the concerns that we have and embracing the process of securing our environments for the safety of all Jews. 

Michigan Roots

Because of his Michigan ties, Cytron-Walker has connections with many rabbis in Metro Detroit and Lansing.  

Rabbi Amy Bigman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing, where the rabbi’s family are longtime members, told the JN she has known the rabbi since before he was ordained, back when he was involved in a Jewish youth group.  

“He was the NFTY-MI president. He’s a wonderful guy,” she said, adding that there’s been an outpouring of support on the rabbinic Facebook page and from the community in the town where he grew up. “People around the world are keeping him and everyone in Colleyvillein our prayers.”  

Rabbi Mark Miller, who served as a rabbi in Houston from 2007-2014, got to know Cytron-Walker in Texas and at national rabbinical gatherings. Miller said his relationship with him deepened once he moved to Detroit Metro because Cytron-Walker’s sister is a congregant at Temple Beth El. Miller says he has been in touch with her throughout the day during the “terrifying” hostage situation.  

Quite honestly, he is one of the kindest, gentlest rabbis I know the definition of a mensch, Miller said. So many rabbis who are close to Charlie and, for an entire community, are once again traumatized as a result of a heinous attack at one of our sacred Temples during our sacred time of Shabbat. 

Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield sent an email to his congregation after Shabbat talking about Cytron-Walker, CBI’s rabbi since 2006. The two were friends from youth group, he wrote, noting the kindness of Cytron-Walker’s family, including his mother, Judy, and sister, Laura. He and Cytron-Walker attended U-M together and both lived in East Quad. 

“Rabbi Cytron-Walker is a social justice hero,” he wrote. “For as long as I’ve known him, he has worked tirelessly night and day to care for the needy and the oppressed and to fight for justice and for equality. He does all this with the biggest of smiles and the kindest of hearts.” 

Rabbi Jen Lader of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield said she is anguished knowing that her friend, Cytron-Walker, has been held hostage and was in mortal danger within a building where he has devoted so much of his life to his congregation and community. 

In 2018, Lader got to know Cytron-Walker during a yearlong rabbinical fellowship called the Clergy Leadership Incubator. In another tie with the Temple Israel clergy, the Lansing native has a connection with Rabbi Paul Yedwab through the Reform movement’s youth group programs. 

“Since the news broke, I’ve been in touch with dozens of rabbis I know who just love this guy, and this makes is that much harder,” Lader said. “This is a horrific nightmare and a bad day to be a rabbi in America. Being a rabbi should not be a dangerous job.” 

Lader continued to praise the young rabbi, who has only had one pulpit — at the Texas congregation. 

“Charlie is a really unique and wonderful human being,” she said. “There are people in this world who just exude optimism and menschlichkeit. He is completely authentic in his love for humanity. I think that’s the most important thing about him, and you find that out about him within the first five minutes of meeting him.” 

JTA report by Ron Kampeas.

JN Contributing Writers Karen Schwartz and Stacy Gittleman added to this report.  

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