On Saturday, January 15th, a British national named Malik Faisal Akram entered Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and held Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three congregants hostage at gunpoint. Akram demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence for allegedly shooting at US FBI agents and army personnel. Akram released one hostage after six hours, and the nearly 12-hour crisis finally ended when the remaining hostages escaped and FBI agents and police entered the synagogue and killed Akram. This disturbing incident activated many American Jews’ feelings of vulnerability—especially heightened since the 2018 attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh—while also provoking Islamophobic responses and reigniting an ongoing debate about synagogue security. In this episode, recorded the Tuesday after the Colleyville attack, Editor-in-Chief Arielle Angel, Managing Editor Nathan Goldman, Senior Reporter Alex Kane, and Assistant Editor Mari Cohen discuss their immediate reactions to the event and the questions it raises.
Note: This discussion cites a statement from someone claiming to be a former Beth Israel congregant who said he left the synagogue because he wasn’t allowed to bring guns into services. After the episode was recorded, Rabbi Cytron-Walker told JTA that Beth Israel permits concealed carry and said that he wished one of the congregants had been carrying during the attack.
Books, Articles, Tweets, and Podcasts Mentioned:
“On Antisemitism Fought” by Judah Bernstein
On the Nose episode: “Rallies, Surveys, and Ice Cream”
“Renowned Jewish Historian: ‘Stop Using the Term ‘Antisemitism’’” by Ofer Aderet
“Away from a Definition of Antisemitism: An Essay in the Semantics of Historical Description” by David Engel (from Rethinking European Jewish History)
“For Jews, Going to Services Is an Act of Courage” by Deborah E. Lipstadt
Twitter thread by Ma Nishtana
Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”