Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, spoke of love and gratitude during a healing service Jan. 17 — showing a quality familiar to Ohio rabbis who l knew in his youth, as a rabbinical student and today.
In Texas, Rabbi Daniel Utley told the Cleveland Jewish News on January 17 that he and Dallas-area clergy hoped to reach out to Cytron-Walker, who he said is highly respected and helped build the Congregation. Beth Israel.
“It was really special to see how Rabbi Cytron-Walker’s efforts saved lives and defused the situation in the best possible way,” said Utley, the associate rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who grew up in Beachwood. . “We were all very proud to see this. We know what a wonderful man he is and what a wonderful rabbi he is. … I can imagine that his abilities as a pastoral care giver were put to use and his training was put to work throughout the day.
On Jan. 15, Cytron-Walker allowed a man into Congregation Beth Israel before the start of Shabbat services because it had been a particularly cold day in North Texas, and he served him a cup of tea, according to reports. media. The services were being broadcast live due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The man, Malik Faisal Akram, ended up holding the rabbi and three worshipers hostage for more than 10 hours.
One hostage was freed in the late afternoon and the others escaped after the hostage taker told the men to kneel down, according to The New York Times. It was then that Cytron-Walker threw a chair at him and the three remaining hostages ran outside to safety.
Cytron-Walker received his rabbinical ordination in 2006 and a master’s degree in Hebrew letters in 2005 from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. As a student, he served congregations in Ishpeming, Michigan, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and Cincinnati. While at HUC-JIR, he received several awards for his community service, as well as an award for leadership from QESHET: A Network of LGBT Reform Rabbis, according to his biography on his synagogue’s website.
On January 17, Cytron-Walker spoke at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church healing service in Southlake, Texas.
There he thanked all who had reached out to him and the congregation since the ordeal.
“I’ve run or helped run too many of these services; I have cried too many vigils for Jews, Muslims, Christians and many other people,” he said. “And I’m so grateful, so incredibly grateful, that we’re tonight – unlike every other service like this that I’ve done – tonight we won’t be saying our traditional bereavement prayer, which no one will be saying. Kaddish Yatom for me or for each of us, the Mourner’s Kaddish, tonight.
“Thank God. Thank Gd. It could have been so much worse and I am overflowing, really overflowing with gratitude,” he said.
Cytron-Walker thanked those in the sanctuary, a much larger sanctuary than his synagogue, he said, and he thanked those who watched online, who numbered 32,000 on the following day.
Cytron-Walker grew up in Lansing, Michigan. Rabbi Robert N. Nosanchuk of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood met Cytron-Walker when Cytron-Walker was in fifth grade. Nosanchuk was his youth group counselor while in college in East Lansing, Michigan, and knows Cytron-Walker and his mother, Nosanchuk told his congregation in a Jan. 15 email, in which he expressed prayers for the safety of the hostages. Cytron-Walker graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
During the healing service, Cytron-Walker quoted the Talmud that one person who saves a life, saves a world.
“When terrible things happen to me and you feel it, that’s empathy,” he said. “It’s compassion. And that’s what allows us to see each other despite all our differences. It allows us to see ourselves as human beings, as infinitely precious because every person, every world is infinitely precious.
He also spoke about the importance of crossing divisions to make friends.
“Because here’s the thing, if we live that value…we might have a lot more friends that we disagree with, a lot more friends that we disagree with, but we’ll have a lot more fewer enemies.”
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he said, “Love is the only force that can turn an enemy into a friend.”
He also said that by considering each person as an infinite value, “It’s up to each of us to work on it.”
Rabbi Rick Kellner, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington, a suburb of Columbus, said he met Cytron-Walker when they were both first-year rabbinical students at the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem. . Kellner then attended the Los Angeles campus, and Cytron-Walker headed to the Cincinnati campus.
Kellner told the CJN on Jan. 18 that Cytron-Walker is loving, kind, and calm. He said he had seen Cytron-Walker at conventions of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and looked forward to his conversations with him.
“He leads with his heart,” Kellner said. “He leads with his soul.”
Kellner said Cytron-Walker is “giving and heartfelt” and “deeply intuitive about the world around us.”
At the healing service, Cytron-Walker spoke to his congregation.
“To my CBI (Congregation Beth Israel) family, I wish I had a magic wand,” he said. “I wish I could take away all of our pain and struggle. I know this violation of our spiritual home has been traumatic for each of us, not just us. And the road ahead will be a process.
However, he said, “Like any journey, we will take the next step.”
“We will comfort each other, we will lean on each other, and we will understand that each of us will react in our own way and we will be patient with each other even when we annoy each other – I can hope, “he said. “It will take time, but we will heal together. Together, all of us, we will heal together.
The healing service included readings by past presidents of Congregation Beth Israel and singing led by cantors. It ended with the song “Olam Chesed Yibaneh”, written by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. It includes the lyrics, “If we build this world out of love, then Gd will build this world out of love.”
Rabbi Josh Brown of Temple Israel in Bath Township, who attended the HUC-JIR, said he met Cytron-Walker in Cincinnati because Cytron-Walker had been assigned to help lead the orientation of incoming rabbinical students.
“I always knew that Charlie was deeply committed to learning, justice and lots of smiles,” Brown wrote to his followers in a Jan. 16 email. “He is best described as a pure mensch. Thank goodness the world will continue to benefit from its shining light and the lives of other hostages who survived yesterday’s attack.
Brown told the CJN on Jan. 18, “I remember him, I think, kind of like he showed up at the vigil last night. … I remember him as a very smart, justice-oriented, happy, lying guy.
He said Cytron-Walker presented himself authentically.
“I think what we’ve seen from the leadership in the pulpit over the past few days and in interviews is very much what I remember of him,” Brown said.
Utley said his congregation has a healing service on Jan. 21, and prayers for Congregation Beth Israel and Cytron-Walker will be included in that previously scheduled service.
“We try to encourage people to react to these situations, to be prepared, to make sure that our physical security is upright and…ready to react, but also that our spiritual path is solid,” he said. declared. “If we go out and step forward in the Jewish community and continue to build vibrant Jewish lives together, that is our best response to anti-Semitism, hatred of all kinds.”
Cytron-Walker’s first post on Facebook in the wake of the situation was a message of gratitude: “I am grateful and filled with appreciation for / All vigils and prayers and love and support, / All the forces of order and the first responders who attended to us, / All the safety training that helped save us. / I am grateful for my family. / I am grateful to the CBI community, the Jewish community, the human community. / I’m grateful that we made it. / I’m grateful to be alive.