As Shabbat ended last week, we all turned on our phones or TVs to the shocking news out of Colleyville, Texas. A rabbi and three congregants were being held hostage inside Congregation Beth Israel. The hostage-taker, later identified as British national Malik Faisal Akram, 44, had stormed the synagogue as Shabbat morning services were being livestreamed. Akram, who arrived legally in the U.S. last month and was not on any known U.S. government watchlist, was reportedly motivated by a desire to secure the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, otherwise known as Lady al-Qaeda, who is serving an 86-year sentence on a 2010 conviction on seven charges.
What followed was an 11-hour standoff between Akram and law enforcement that ended with the hostages escaping and Akram being killed by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
What began for us as an evening of fear and horror ended, thank God, with our ability to breathe a collective sigh of relief and give thanks that the hostages all escaped unharmed.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel and one of the hostages, credited the multiple security courses his congregation has participated in over the years for the hostages’ knowledge, preparation and ability to safely navigate this traumatic ordeal.
“Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said in a CNN interview. “I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools and others to participate in active shooter and security courses.”
How many of us can say that our shuls conduct security training for congregants on a regular basis? Other than trained CSS (Community Security Service) members, is anyone in our shuls prepared in the event of a situation such as this?
Perhaps an important takeaway from this incident should be to institute or enhance security training and active shooter drills in our shuls, the same way that our schools have regular drills for our children and their teachers. And not only hold these courses and drills, but take them seriously. Sadly, this is clearly something that can no longer be overlooked, and it might just save a life.
By Jill Kirsch