By Sunday evening, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Since Saturday morning, my life had been consumed by the tragic invasion of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville by an armed gunman, who held four people hostage during a nearly 11-hour standoff.
As a longtime member of CBI, I was horrified when I received a text Saturday morning from a friend and former member of the congregation, asking for help tracking down a phone number for a local FBI official.
“Rabbi Charlie is being held hostage in CBI right now,” the text stated. A man “wants to kill him.”
I quickly called my friend for more information. “Who knows about this?” I asked. Hardly anyone, she replied. But she told me that the livestream video was still running on Facebook and everyone could watch it.
When I do attend services, it is usually on Friday evening rather than Saturday morning so I was not watching online. I immediately signed into the Facebook livestream to listen in as the hostage-taker, later identified as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram of Great Britain, terrorized the three people who had braved the bitter cold and threat of contracting COVID to attend services in-person that morning with Rabbi Charlie Walker.
Akram could be heard ranting and raving anti-Semitic rhetoric, laced with obscenities, as he pressed his demands to have a convicted felon, Aafia Siddiqui, also known as “Lady al Qaeda,” brought to CBI from a federal prison at Carswell Air Force Base. Akram referred to Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence for attempting to kill U.S. soldiers, as his “sister,” although news reports indicate there is no blood relation between them.
As I continued to listen to the livestream, hundreds and then thousands of people tuned in. In the meantime, it seemed that everyone I had ever known in my life reached out by text and email to find out whether I was okay. By the time, the livestream video was cut off, nearly 8,000 viewers were watching it.
I put up a Facebook post to assure everyone that I was, indeed, a member of CBI but I was at home and safe.
At the same time, I was in constant communication with synagogue friends about who else was in the building and how the gunman got in (although that was easy to figure out). I learned that one member who had been attending services on Zoom, saw Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker raise his arms, as a hostage would, and called the police.
Then the media calls started coming, mostly from reporters looking for any CBI member who would provide information. By then I was in touch with a major media outlet that I had worked for for five years. Since I still had a press pass from that organization, I agreed to go to the scene and help out, because of my familiarity with the area.
But as I arrived at the media staging scene at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, about a block away from CBI, I was rocked by a horrific conflict of interest and conscience that I had never before experienced.
As a veteran news reporter, with more than 40 years experience, I had been in this situation dozens of times before: a crime scene, with heavy law enforcement presence and a feeding frenzy of national and local media all clamoring for any tidbit of information.
I had the information that the other reporters wanted but I knew I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – be a source for anyone. To do so would betray the trust of my synagogue and dearest friends, including one very close friend who I knew to be inside the building.
I hung around at the scene for a while, overheard what other reporters had learned, and directed a television reporter from my news organization to the site of a news conference, which apparently was canceled.
By this point, I was given permission to leave and I did. By the time I arrived home, the standoff had ended, the hostages were safe and the gunman was dead.
I couldn’t have been more relieved.
But I also came to an even more important realization through this experience. While I love journalism and have always loved reporting, it is a job.
CBI is more than a place of worship for me; it is a second home where my extended family comes together, and has for more than two decades.
I attended the original organizing event arranged in 1998 by three women in Northeast Tarrant County to introduce Jews in this growing area to one another.
When the move commenced less than a year later to establish a synagogue, I was onboard. It has been a long journey to where we are now. We started with nothing – no building to hold services or classes for our children, and no rabbi.
But we managed. We rented several spaces in Colleyville before forging an agreement with the First United Methodist Church of Colleyville to use their sanctuary for services and conduct a religious school. At first, a lay leader conducted services and then we brought in student rabbis from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
One of the three founding women, Anna Eisen and her family, bought and donated land on Pleasant Run Road, along what is known as “church row.” Through aggressive fund-raising efforts, we built and opened our synagogue doors in 2005 and hired Rabbi Charlie as our first and only rabbi in 2006.
What I have always loved most about CBI is that it is a small congregation, made up of less than 200 families. Most of us are transplants from other places, mostly New York, although the Chicago contingent (like me) is running a close second. Many of us were brought to the area because of jobs and, as a result, had no support from extended family. At CBI, we became the extended family for one another.
Most of the Jewish synagogues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are much larger. I grew up in a synagogue like that and never truly felt a connection despite the fact that my father served on the board of trustees and as president of the congregation.
CBI has always felt right to me. It’s taken a lot of elbow grease over the years. We prepare food for holiday celebrations and move furniture around in the sanctuary to convert to a social hall, since we don’t have one.
The most important highlights of my life have been at CBI: my daughter Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah in 2005, shortly after we opened the building, and my son Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Charlie presiding in 2009.
Rabbi Charlie married Rachel and her husband, Paul, only a few months ago.
Along the way, when I lost my parents, Rabbi Charlie was always there for me as a pillar of support as were my many friends who provided comfort and help in ways large and small.
I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this wonderful place for so many years and to have raised my children in such a loving spiritual home. It has been my privilege to serve on the synagogue board for nearly 10 years, during two different stints. I have served as president of our women’s group for about four years and taught Hebrew classes to countless children for about 20 years. I have also been involved in many other ways, large and small, over the years.
As I reflect on the tragedy of this past weekend, I am deeply saddened about the hate and anti-Semitism that continues to fester in the world, and in our small corner of it. But I remain optimistic that CBI will go on despite the growing need to continue to fortify our building and remain cautious about our surroundings.
We built something from nothing here and we have the courage of our convictions to keep going.
Marice Richter is a longtime DFW area reporter and a regular contributor to the Fort Worth Business Press.