Last month on a normal Shabbat morning in Colleysville, Texas, a stranger walked into the Beth Israel synagogue ostensibly looking for something to eat. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the congregation’s spiritual leader, welcomed the stranger and even offered to make him some tea. As the congregation watched in horror via Zoom, the stranger became a captor, holding the Rabbi and three congregants hostage for 11 hours. The details of the hours leading to the hostages escape and the gunman’s death are still being revealed. The situation sparked fear among the American Jewish community and ignited debate about how to balance the need for security with the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger. In Nashville, the reaction was much the same as elsewhere. Local congregational Rabbis, law enforcement officials, and professional staff of The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, shared words of comfort, reflection, and hope with The Observer.
Eric Stillman, CEO of The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee: Reacting to the news as it unfolded, I found it so difficult waiting for updates as the hostage crisis stretched on for hours and hours. When I learned that the hostages escaped before the authorities entered the congregation and killed the hostage-taker, I was filled with relief and gratitude for the safety of the Rabbi and his congregants. Upon hearing and reading interviews that the Rabbi and one of the congregants gave after the ordeal, I reflected on how essential the security training was in advance, which clearly saved their lives in this situation. I am grateful to the Jewish Federations’ Secure Community Network (SCN), ADL, the FBI, and local law enforcement for the emphasis placed on Jewish community security, and I know that our Nashville Jewish community will apply the lessons learned from the hostage situation at the synagogue in Texas to better protect our congregations, agencies, and Jewish community organizations and members here.
Rabbi Mark Schiftan, Senior Rabbi of The Temple: The events Texas should put us all on notice. This was a premeditated attack on a specifically Jewish target, a synagogue engaged in a worship service on the Sabbath. A rabbi was among the hostages.
Sadly, we are living in a new and far more dangerous era as an American Jewish community.
This should remind us all of the need for a strong and vigilant security presence and ongoing training for Jewish communal professionals, employees, and attendees of Jewish institutions.
Rabbi Laurie Rice, Congregation Micah: Rabbi Cytron-Walker is a hero. The bravery he exhibited at the eleventh hour to get them all out was incredible. But it is profoundly sad that we are unable to feel comfortable letting someone into our synagogue who may be in need. It is a sad state of affairs in our world that we can no longer tend to these people.
Adam Bronstone, Director of Planning and Israel Partnerships, The Jewish Federation: This person entered the synagogue on the pretense of needing help. We are accustomed to welcoming the stranger, and that’s what the Rabbi tried to do, but this person used our faith against us. The fact that we now need to rethink how we welcome people who would not normally be in our spaces is chipping away at pieces of our soul. It’s a fine line. How do we remain in a state of readiness without putting people in a perpetual state of unease? But we do have a better culture of security today than we did three years ago. There is still work to be done, but the community is getting there. We have amazing law enforcement in our community who are ready to care for us and continue to develop better ways to do that. We must continue the conversation.
Doug Korneski, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Memphis Field Office: All of us at the FBI are relieved the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, was resolved without physical injury to those taken hostage. We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial, and ethnic groups, and we will continue to work tirelessly with the Secure Community Network, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation, and others to protect members of the Jewish community from all potential threats.
Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI. Throughout Tennessee, the FBI has had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years and we value having representatives of the Secure Community Network and the Jewish Federation on the FBI Memphis Field Office's Community Engagement Council.
Rabbi Philip Rice, Congregation Micah: As a result of the frightening act of anti-Semitism in Texas, synagogues all over the world are again having to make very difficult decisions, balancing an open, inclusive environment, with the realization that there are those who wish to do us harm. During this emotional time, Congregation Micah joins with all people of good faith as we navigate what is best for our communities.
Rabbi Joshua Kullock, West End Synagogue: I was saddened to see what happened in Texas, but not completely surprised. Even in our days, as we live in one of the best times to be Jewish, antisemitism in many different forms remains an ongoing threat to all of us. At West End Synagogue we will continue to keep our congregants safe without giving up being a welcoming, inclusive and warm place for all at the same time.
Rabbi Yitchok Tiechtel, Chabad of Nashville: I hope as a global and local Jewish community, we will continue to focus on our common thread, of being one Jewish family, despite differences we may have. As a unified community we can and overcome all darkness and hate, and merit an era of light and redemption.