Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, is being called a hero for his actions during Saturday’s hostage situation. According to officials, the Texas Rabbi was very calm during the 11-hour standoff.

The rabbi and four members of his congregation were held in the synagogue after an intruder interrupted prayers during Shabbat services. Officers were able to get all of the hostages out safely.

Following the hostage situation, the Texas rabbi was praised by FBI agents and members of his own community. Dallas police chaplain Andrew Marc Paley said that officers were “really so impressed and genuinely appreciative of how calm and collected Rabbi Charlie was, keeping order and everybody’s wits about them.”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is being called a hero after he and four of his community members were taken hostage in Congregation Beth Israel for 11 hours. (Credit: Congregation Beth Israel)
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is being called a hero after he and four of his community members were taken hostage in Congregation Beth Israel for 11 hours. (Credit: Congregation Beth Israel)

According to Paley, during the standoff leaders of other local congregations, including those of the Catholic and Muslim faiths, gathered with police at Good Shepherd Catholic Church to support members of the community who had gathered there.

Members of Rabbi Charlie’s congregation said that the Texas Rabbi had built his synagogue on the idea of interfaith communication and had helped to bring together many of the different Colleyville religions.

“They were at the church for most of the day just being there, being present. Rabbi Charlie had a great following and earned a great deal of admiration from a lot of people in the community,” Paley said.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who became the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2006, is known for his kind words, calm demeanor and his ability to bring people together. Specifically, he had been working on bringing the Muslim and Jewish communities of Colleyville together. Congregation members were known to celebrate iftar dinners during Ramadan with Muslim community members.

“That was the first time I’d ever met an imam,” Tia Sukenik, the congregation’s former religious-school director, told The Forward. “It opened the door where I could bring my religious-school students to go visit them. He’s always worked to expand our world and to let other people see what Jews are like.”

Former classmates from his time at Hebrew Union College said that Rabbi Charlie always wanted to make sure that others had the chance to voice their opinions.

“His entire persona is listening and dialogue,” said Rabbi Werner, his HUC classmate. “If you had a meeting with Charlie, there was like a six-hour process part about how everybody would be heard, about how we could be kind to each other — and that was about ordering a pizza.”

Many were surprised that the hostage situation took place at Congregation Beth Israel because of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s work in interfaith dialogue. Some said they found the whole thing ironic but are glad that everyone was able to get out safely.

According to authorities, the hostage situation happened around 11 a.m. Saturday during the congregation’s Shabbat services. Rabbi Charlie and four of his members were taken hostage when an unknown suspect stormed into the synagogue and said that he had weapons and explosives.

The suspect has been identified by police, but authorities have not released his name since the investigation is still ongoing. CNN confirmed that he was a British national.

Police were alerted about the incident around 10:40 a.m. because the Shabbat services were being broadcast on Facebook and Zoom. Members from local, state, and federal SWAT teams were brought in to diffuse the hostage situation. There was also an FBI hostage rescue team on the scene.

Reports say that the suspect wanted Aafia Siddiqui released from prison because she had been framed. The suspect called Siddiqui his “sister,” but it is unclear if the two were related. Back in 2010, Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison for an attempted murder of U.S. nationals.

The suspect released one of the hostages around 5 p.m. as part of a deal with authorities. It wasn’t until 9 p.m. when officers were able to storm the synagogue and get the rest of the hostages out safely. The suspect was found dead on the scene.

Names of other hostages have not been released as police continue to investigate.