congregation beth israel, texas synagogue hostages, rabbi charlie cytron-walker

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel.

A stranger knocked on the door of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday morning shortly before Shabbat service. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, made him a cup of tea. The rabbi and Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national, spoke for a few moments and then the rabbi went on to perform his regular 10 a.m. Shabbat prayers for his congregation.

When the rabbi turned his back to face Jerusalem, he heard a click come from the stranger. "And it turned out, that it was his gun," Cytron-Walker told CBS News.

Akram began screaming and a congregant, Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president of the synagogue's board of trustees, quickly pulled out his phone and dialed 911. A livestream broadcasting the prayer ceremony to congregants participating from home caught some of what Akram was shouting. "I'm gunned up. I'm ammo-ed up," he told someone he called nephew. "Guess what, I will die."

The FBI got word of the 911 call and quickly set up a perimeter around the synagogue. Akram took four people hostage, including the rabbi.


During the ordeal, Akram repeatedly demanded the release of a convicted terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence at a Texas federal prison for an assault on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Five hours into the ordeal, one hostage—a man—was released by Akram. Four hours later, Akram became increasingly enraged and the hostages knew that they had to take action to avoid being killed.

"In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening," Cytron-Walker said in a statement to CNN.

"When I saw an opportunity where he wasn't in a good position, I asked (and) made sure that the gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go. The exit wasn't too far away," Cytron-Walker told CBS.

"I told them to go,” Cytron-Walker said. “I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired."

The rabbi attributes his ability to keep calm to his rabbinical training.

"As a part of training as clergy, we talk a lot about the idea of being a calm, non-anxious presence," he told CBS. "We do that in hospital rooms. We do that during the most difficult of individual moments. And I did the best I could to do that throughout the standoff."

Moments after the hostages were safely out of the synagogue, a group of armed law enforcement made their way into the building. The authorities confronted Akram, who was fatally shot by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.

Joel Schwitzer of the American Jewish Committee was impressed by the heroic actions taken by the rabbi. “He is the most unassuming, egoless person you could ever meet. He is the personification of nice guy,” Schwitzer told Today. “He’s an average-sized person. When I heard he’d thrown a chair at the guy, I was so impressed. He’s a hero. There’s no other way to describe him.”

Cytron-Walker says he learned to think quickly from various trainings, including from the FBI.

"Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network," Cytron-Walker told CNN. "We are alive today because of that education."

On Sunday night, the rabbi gave a moving speech to his congregation assuring them "We will heal."

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

Keep Reading Show less

Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made a heartfelt plea for Americans to “do better” on Tuesday after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Uvalde is a small town of about 16,000 residents approximately 85 miles west of San Antonio. The actor grew up in Uvalde until he was 11 years old when his family moved to Longview, 430 miles away.

The suspected murderer, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime. Before the rampage, Ramos allegedly shot his grandmother after a disagreement.

“As you all are aware there was another mass shooting today, this time in my home town of Uvalde, Texas,” McConaughey wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “Once again, we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.”

Keep Reading Show less
Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

Keep Reading Show less