(CNN) — Jewish communities in the United States are once again on alert after a new attack on worshipers at a synagogue, this time at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, where a man interrupted Shabbat services on Saturday and held four people hostage. during hours.
None of the hostages were killed, and the suspect is dead., according to the authorities. But after other high-profile attacks at other synagogues, Saturday’s incident serves as the latest reminder for Jewish congregations and organizations to be vigilant, step up their security measures and have tough conversations about staying safe.
“All of a sudden, we have to become security experts,” said Rabbi Joshua Stanton, a fellow at the National Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership.
“I didn’t become a rabbi to be a security expert,” he said. “I became a rabbi to teach, to support, to care, to be in the wider community as a source of love for the world. And now all of a sudden there is a lot of fear. … And for the Jewish community to be attacked like this How it affects us all”.
In an interview on Sunday, Rabbi Rick Jacobs described a “roller coaster of emotions” that he believed Jews across North America had shared over the previous 24 hours.
Saturday was a day filled with “deep worry and concern that our community is unfortunately all too well aware of,” said Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which leads a network of hundreds of Reform synagogues, including Congregation Beth Israel.
Saturday night saw “the most intense relief” after the release of the hostages, he said. But people woke up Sunday worried again: “The question was were we safe enough to go back to our normal activities,” Jacobs said, activities like gathering at religious schools or holding planned community services to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s sad that that’s the reality, that much of our Jewish community doesn’t feel safe in many settings,” Jacobs said. “And yet, what are we? We are a Jewish community that responds to whatever problem or reality we face.”
“Walking into a synagogue today and being greeted by a security guard, or some security procedures, having to show ID and sometimes going through a metal detector, or having to answer a few questions, we honestly feel safer.” going through that kind of experience,” he said.
“This is just what we must do to keep our communities safe.”
The latest high-level attack on a Jewish congregation
No one was seriously injured in Colleyville, but victims of other recent attacks targeting Jewish congregations have not been so lucky.
Eleven people died in 2018 in the sinagoga Tree of Life en Pittsburgh, when a gunman made anti-Semitic comments and opened fire on the congregation. One person was killed and three others were injured by an attacker in 2019 at the sinagoga Chabad of Poway, cerca de San Diego. And while it wasn’t at a synagogue, three people were shot dead by two attackers that same year at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, in an attack authorities said was fueled in part by anti-Semitism.
In Colleyville, although the suspect, identified by the FBI as British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, 44, took devout Jews hostage, FBI Dallas Special Agent Matthew DeSarno told a news conference Saturday that authorities believe it was “singularly focused on an issue” that was “not related specifically to the Jewish community”.
Two officials told CNN that investigators believe the kidnapper may have been motivated by a desire to free a Pakistani man serving an 86-year sentence in a Texas correctional facility after being convicted in 2010 of attempted murder and armed robbery against US officers in Afghanistan.
In a subsequent statement, the FBI described the hostage situation as a “terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was the target.”
“We never lose sight of the threat that extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial and ethnic groups,” the statement said.
The threat to Jewish communities is real, Jewish leaders say, pointing to the recent rise in anti-Jewish acts.
Jacobs expressed his appreciation to law enforcement and their efforts to get the hostages out safely. But he took issue with any suggestion that the attack was not anti-Semitic.
“They didn’t hit a McDonald’s or a mall,” Jacobs said of the suspect. “They found a congregation, a Reform house of prayer, on a day when we came together to pray and celebrate.”
“Sorry, if it happened once every thousand years, you could say I wasn’t an anti-Semite,” he said. “But the choice of synagogue for this kidnapper, and the litany of things we’ve dealt with as a community…it’s pretty clear.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), urged the authorities in a statement to “investigate the role that anti-Semitism may have played in the motivation of the suspect”.
Meanwhile, synagogues and other Jewish institutions must remain vigilant, Greenblatt said, adding in his statement: “The risks remain high in light of the historic level of anti-Semitism across the country and the proliferation of anti-Semitic hate online.”
The ADL will be contacting local law enforcement agencies in the coming days, Greenblatt said, “to ensure steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the Jewish community.”
“Is our community under attack again?”
Security is a daily concern for Jewish synagogues today, and many have received training and have established their own protocols to keep their congregations safe.
In a statement Sunday, Beth Israel Congregation Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker attributed his survival to the training he and his congregation have received over the years from local police, the FBI, the ADL Y Secure Communities Network (SCN), a group that helps Jewish communities across North America develop and establish safety protocols.
“Today we are alive because of that education,” said Cytron-Walker.
Brad Orsini, SCN’s Senior National Security Advisor, told CNN that the organization has expanded dramatically in recent years after attacks like those in Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, New York, where a man targeted Jews. Hasidic Orthodox at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration in 2019.
After an event like Colleyville, Jewish leaders seek both advice and reassurance, he said. They want to know if this is an isolated event, if there could be copycats, and if they should put out emergency operations plans and stay vigilant.
The answer to this last question, he said, “is absolutely yes.”
“An incident in Colleyville really affects the entire Jewish community across the country,” he told CNN in an interview Sunday after a webinar to brief hundreds of Jewish community leaders, security representatives and others about what happened. in Colleyville. “Think of Pittsburgh, Poway, Monsey, Jersey City… is our community under attack again?”
In response, synagogues would be reviewing their plans with ushers and greeters, Orsini said, while shuls with less sophisticated plans were trying to catch up. Measures could include ensuring temple administrators have remote access to floor plans that can be easily shared with law enforcement, he said, or externally accessible surveillance cameras to give emergency services a head start. tactics against any threat.
“Most communities are talking about these issues right now, whether they need to increase security,” he said.
The connection between religions is important, says the rabbi
Cities across the country also increased security at synagogues and Jewish community centers to ensure their safety.
Although there were no credible threats, the Washington City Metropolitan Police Department increased visibility around places of worship, a department spokesperson told CNN.
The New York Police Department similarly deployed resources to “key Jewish locations” in the city on Saturday night, Mayor Eric Adams said on Twitter, and the alcalde de Dallas Eric Johnson He also announced that the city’s police department was sending additional patrols to synagogues and other places as a “precaution.”
Rabbi Steve Leder of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Saturday that he has been in contact with other rabbis and Jewish leaders across the country, stressing that “we all have to continue to be vigilant.”
“Of course we are worried,” he said. “I mean, to be honest, my wife didn’t even want me to go on CNN with you… but we can’t let that stop us from speaking out against this senseless hate.”
But security is not just a matter of cameras, metal detectors and training, Jacobs said, stressing the importance of relations between religions and noting that Jews are not the only religious community to have been targeted. Throughout the day on Saturday, he received messages of love and support from people of all faiths, including Christians and Muslims, who condemned the kidnapper’s actions.
“The truth is that Jewish history has very, very painful episodes of anti-Jewish hatred, of anti-Semitism,” he said. “And one of the things that feels very unique in 21st-century America is that we hear, we feel the deep connection” with members of other faiths.
Ultimately, Jewish communities cannot be “paralyzed by fear,” Jacobs added. “That’s completely turning our faith community over to the haters, and that wouldn’t even be something we contemplate.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism