Synagogue Safety, Security A Concern A Week After Colleyville

The great thing about Shabbat is that it comes every week. But this week, it comes at a time as the Jewish community in the United States is reckoning with security and safety while being in their congregation.

Saturday marks one week since hostages were taken at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three congregants ultimately escaped physically unharmed, but it has reopened the conversation about how to be warm and welcoming while also being safe and secure.

“There’s significantly heightened awareness of the need for training, particularly after Rabbi Cytron-Walker’s comments about the importance of Secure Community Network training and ADL training at Congregation Beth Israel,” said Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “The rabbi credited with the learned with teaching them how to respond under those circumstances.”

Listen to “68. Processing The Shabbat Hostage Crisis” on Spreaker.

The rabbi and congregants were able to escape at the end of the multi-hour standoff when the rabbi threw a chair at the hostage-taker. 

Hunegs said that the JCRC helped organize an FBI seminar for houses of worship of all faiths in December, which they will be reprising in February, that deals specifically with active assailants. 

Of course, synagogues have dealt with the need for increased security for a long time, but that need became heightened in the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. 

“Here you have something slightly more subtle, but it’s also captured people’s attention is a better way to simply because of the slower the slower unfolding of the event where it’s almost as though people could imagine themselves in the place of the rabbi and hostages,” Hunegs said.  

Cytron-Walker told NPR in an interview earlier this week that continuing to be welcoming will continue to be important.

“When someone comes to the door, they are nervous. They are questioning. They’re asking – am I going to be accepted? – whether they’re somebody who’s Jewish who’s coming in from another community or from our community or whether they’re not Jewish,” he said. “And maybe they’re exploring Judaism for the first time, or they just want to see what a Jewish service is all about because they’re curious. And they’re asking, am I going to belong? And I want them to know that they are going to belong. We can’t forget about who we are. Hospitality means the world.

Deborah Lipstadt, acclaimed author and President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve in the State Department as special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, tweeted that Jews should go to shul this weekend as an act of defiance. Hunegs expects that synagogues will see an increase in attendance this weekend.

“I imagine there’ll be a lot of a lot of people falling into the category of people who are being extremely careful staying away from indoor events,” due to Covid, he said. “But will want to go to demonstrate their solidarity.”