Renovated Texas synagogue reopens months after hostage crisis

COLLEEville, Texas (AP) — In the three months since Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker and three of his congregations were held at gunpoint in their Texas synagogue, new carpeting has been laid in the sanctuary, walls have been repainted, The entry has been rebuilt and new doors installed. He said it’s healing to see.

“Every time I came back, I got to see us move forward,” Citroen-Walker said.

The Church of Beth Israel in Fort Worth, a suburb of Colville, will be rededicated Friday, and members will celebrate Shabbat in their own building for the first time since the attack.

After a 10-hour standoff on January 15 that ended with the remaining hostages escaping and an FBI tactical team gunning down and killing the synagogue, the synagogue was left with broken doors and windows, bullet holes and broken glass.

The synagogue’s founder, Anna Saltan Eisen, said that the scene reminded her of the abandoned synagogue in Poland, still marked with World War II bullets, which she saw in 1998 while visiting that country with her parents. Had seen – both survived the Holocaust.

“I was standing in my synagogue this time and it was just empty and silent and it showed traces of the violence that had taken place,” Eisen said.

Eisen said the withdrawal will help with the healing process.

“We are not defeated and we are not going to live in fear,” she said.

The leaders of the congregation, made up of about 160 families, said they were overwhelmed by the love and support they received when they returned from service at a Methodist church under renovation. They also want to focus on fighting the anti-Semitism that drives the gunman into their synagogue.

“It’s my hope and my prayer that there is a greater awareness of how harmful hate can be,” said Citron-Walker, who begins a new job in July at Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

He was preparing for the morning meeting on January 15, when a stranger came to the door of the synagogue. Citroen-Walker welcomed the man who she said would spend a winter’s night outside, chatting with her and making her tea.

Then, as Citron-Walker and three of her congregation prayed – and others looked online – a click could be heard from a gun. During the standoff, British citizen Malik Faisal Akram demanded the release of a Pakistani woman serving a long prison sentence in nearby Fort Worth after pleading guilty to trying to kill American soldiers.

The hostages have said that Akram cited anti-Semitic stereotypes, believing that Jews use the kind of power that could release the woman.

A hostage, 85-year-old Lawrence Schwartz, was released after about six hours. Around 9 p.m., the remaining hostages fled as Citroen-Walker threw a chair at Akram and the hostages fled through a side door.

Citron-Walker credits previous security training for getting them out safely, including the training they received from the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by Jewish organizations.

The Texas hostage attack comes just three years after America’s deadliest anti-Semitic attack, when a gunman killed 11 worshipers from three synagogues at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“We believe that training is absolutely critical,” said Michael Masters, National Director and CEO of Secure Community Network. “You rarely rise to the occasion of an important event, you’re back to your level of training.”

He said last year he trained more than 17,000 people and in the first three months of this year the number was exceeded.

Church Beth Israel president Michael Finfer said on Thursday that it would continue to conduct security training and that going forward there would be “more police protection than ever before.”

Jeff Cohen, one of the four hostages, said he was excited to return.

“It’s part of that processing, seeing where we’re going,” said Cohen, the synagogue’s vice president and director of security.

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