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Texas rabbi held hostage says strangers still welcome in synagogue: ‘We can’t live in fear’

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker also expressed empathy for the family of the gunman who was killed by law enforcement after holding him and others hostage.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker says he would not turn away strangers from his Texas synagogue after being held at gunpoint for 11 hours by a man he let inside last week.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker says he would not turn away strangers from his Texas synagogue after being held at gunpoint for 11 hours by a man he let inside last week.Getty Images

A Texas rabbi who was held at gunpoint for 11 hours by a man who was ultimately killed by law enforcement last week said he will continue to welcome strangers into the synagogue because he doesn't want to "live in fear every step of the way."

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, was held hostage along with others at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Jan. 15 by a man identified by law enforcement as Malik Faisal Akram. Everyone was able to escape to safety without any injuries before law enforcement confronted Akram and fatally shot him.

Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, had knocked on the door of the synagogue and said he was cold, so Cytron-Walker took him inside and made him tea. He then pulled out a gun and held Cytron-Walker and some of his congregants hostage for hours in a harrowing ordeal.

The rabbi spoke to NPR about whether he would beef up security at the synagogue going forward after the incident.

"I don’t know, but I will tell you that we will do what we always do, which is the best we can," he said. "Whether we’re in a synagogue or a church or a mosque, whether we are religious or not, we are imperfect human beings, trying to live the best we can because we can’t know the future. We can’t know what’s coming. And we also can’t live in fear every step of the way."

Cytron-Walker said he threw a chair at Akram and was able to flee behind two others without anyone being hurt, which had fellow Jewish leaders lauding Cytron-Walker as a hero for his actions.

He also expressed empathy for Akram's loved ones despite Akram's actions. Akram had taken the hostages to demand the freedom of a federal prisoner who had been convicted of attempted murder in a 2010 terrorism-related case, according to NBC News.

"I would say to his family, I am so sorry," the rabbi told NPR. "I’m so sorry that you had to endure this tragedy. It’s horrible for all of us."

Even after enduring a life-or-death ordeal, Cytron-Walker will not hesitate to welcome strangers to the synagogue in the future.

"And so when someone comes to the door, they are nervous," he said. "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.

"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."