Jeff Cohen is an engineer. He’s from Keller. And he’s the president of the Beth Israel Congregation in Colleyville.
“A year ago, that would have been everything to me,” he said.
A year ago, a 44-year-old Englishman named Malik Faisal Akram took Cohen and three others hostage in a synagogue, starting an 11-hour standoff with police. All the hostages managed to escape, while law enforcement entered the building and killed Akram inside.
This helps Cohen remember that the story always ends the same way: he and the other hostages make it out alive.
“We found an opportunity and ran,” Cohen said. The rabbi threw a chair at him and we all left. That’s all”.
Last Friday, Cohen had a quick lunch between interviews in the same room he spent a hell of a day as a hostage, a spacious hideout with colorful stained glass windows.
Akram told his hostages that he was there to demand their release. Aafia Siddiquiwho was convicted on terrorism charges in 2010 and is in FMC Carswell, a federal prison in nearby Fort Worth. Siddiqi denies any connection to Akram.
Akram was convinced that his hostages could somehow help free Siddiqi because he believed some Centuries-old lies about Jews and power, Cohen said.
“I never thought that some guy from Manchester would swim across the ocean, come to Colleville, Texas, and threaten us, because he believed that the Jews controlled the world, the Jews controlled the media, the Jews controlled the banks,” Cohen said. .
That’s another reason Cohen wants to keep talking about the hostage crisis. The first anniversary of the incident comes at a time when the number of reports of anti-Semitic incidents has reached an all-time high.
Rise of American anti-Semitism
In 2017 Neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. chanted: “The Jews will not replace us.”
In 2018, a gunman killed 11 people on Synagogue “Tree of Life” in Pittsburgh.
In November, former president and incumbent 2024 candidate Donald Trump had lunch with Holocaust denier streamer Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye, who praised Adolf Hitler.
Reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the US have been on the rise for years, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has been tracking such incidents since 1979.
In 2021, these incident reports reached record high: 2717 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault. This is almost three times the number of incidents reported by the ADL in 2015. The states with the most reported incidents were New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas.
In 2021, the ADL collected reports of 112 antisemitic incidents in Texas, compared to less than 50 years earlier.
But those high numbers mean something else, says Cheryl Drazin, vice president of ADL’s Central Division, which includes Texas.
“I think the fact that more people are reporting – and so the number is growing – speaks to awareness and that people don’t want to miss something or laugh at it as a joke, but take it seriously,” he said. Drazin. “I don’t see it as a disadvantage.”
It is important for Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker to raise this awareness. He was Beth Israel rabbi for 16 years and was one of those taken hostage last year.
“The problem is that there is too much hate around,” he said. “There are too many people who promote various forms of hate or allow hate to persist.”
Rabbi Charlie, as he is known, is now a rabbi in Temple of Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and special security adviser for ADL. After the hostage crisis, he testified before Congress about the dangers of anti-Semitism and spoke in Lighting the Menorah at the White House along with the President and First Lady.
According to Cytron-Walker, the lies about the Jews that the hostage-taker believed had led to the destruction of Jewish communities throughout history. This is why people need to resist lies when they hear them.
“If we reduce the number of factors that contribute to the development of society, then and only then we will reduce the amount of hatred,” Cytron-Walker said.
For Jeff Cohen, that means stop being polite. Don’t ignore Uncle Bobby’s offensive remarks at a family dinner, he said. Throw it away.
“When you hear something, you know it’s not true, you close your eyes, you make faces, you roll your eyes, you look the other way, but you don’t say anything,” Cohen said. “And I’m not blaming because until this time last year I would have done the same thing. But we can’t. We need to challenge him when we hear things like this.”
“We are still recovering”
Walking around Beth Israel today, I don’t see any clear signs that there was a hostage crisis here a year ago. It took a lot of work. According to Cohen, there were bullet holes and shrapnel damage from an FBI break-in, torn tiles and smashed doors.
“There were a lot of things that were very obvious scars, and it was all fixable and it all healed,” Cohen said.
But it’s just a building.
“A year later, we are not healed. We are still recovering,” Cohen said. And I don’t mean just us. I don’t mean just CBI. I’m talking about the wider community here.”
Cohen gasped as he remembered the overwhelming support the congregation had received.
In fact, the only signs of a hostage crisis left in the synagogue are reminders of that support. Framed postcards from Japan hang on one wall. Copies of congressional declarations condemning anti-Semitism on another. And the huge poster that Cohen unfolds. When he holds it, he is taller than him.
A poster from the students of Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, California, and it is full of messages of support and encouragement.
“I am also Jewish, and I know that we have a lot of hatred. I hope this never happens to you or anyone else again, ”one of the messages says.
“I myself am afraid that this may happen to our Temple, but knowing that you can be brave, I can be brave too,” reads another.
Just a few years ago, there was another temple in this children’s city. attacked by an armed man.
These notes and support from around the world reminds Beth Israel that it is not alone.
Any advice? Write to Miranda Suarez at [email protected]. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.
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