Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, on Tuesday urged members of Congress to increase funding for a federal program that helps houses of worship improve security.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker, who was held hostage by a British gunman with three congregants last month, testified during a joint hearing by the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery and Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
“I’m grateful to be here. To be honest, I’m grateful to be anywhere,” he told the hearing, according to CBS Dallas.
The Rabbi credited his congregation, Tarrant County’s Jewish Federation, and FEMA’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program for helping their synagogue boost security measures.
That includes upgrading their camera system, which he said helped the FBI during the hostage situation on January 15.
He also said he and his congregation had received multiple training seminars from Jewish organizations and federal and local law enforcement on how to prepare for such incidents. That helped him and his three congregants stay calm and escape unharmed.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker said that many other houses of worship – particularly smaller congregations – need help because they often lack money and staff to make improvements.
The rabbi said that last month, he was busy doing multiple things to prepare for his Shabbat morning service when the man who would hold him and three members hostage for hours, knocked on their door.
“I welcomed a terrorist into my congregation. I live with that responsibility,” he recalled.
“Every congregation needs to be prepared, yet the gap between the need and funding is profound. In 2021, fewer than half of nonprofit security grant program applications were approved,” he added.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker told the members of Congress the hostage taker chose their synagogue because he believed in antisemitic tropes that Jews controlled everything and that with a phone call, could gain the release of a prison inmate in Fort Worth.
The gunman, 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, held the hostages while demanding the release of a federal prisoner. The standoff ended after more than 10 hours when Rabbi Cytron-Walker threw a chair at Akram and fled with the other two remaining hostages just as an FBI tactical team was moving in.
Days after the incident, the UK-based Jewish Chronicle published a recording of a phone call between the gunman and his brother in Britain which took place before Akram was shot dead by SWAT teams.
In the recording, Akram told his brother, "I'm opening the doors for every youngster in England to enter America and f*** with them”.
The gunman also boasted about his desire for martyrdom and said, "I've asked Allah for this death, Allah is with me, I'm not worried in the slightest."