At American Synagogues, a New Normal Takes Shape

Armed guards, traffic barriers, safety training
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2022 8:39 AM CST
At American Synagogues, a New Normal Takes Shape
Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, facing camera, hugs a man after a service Monday night, at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas. Cytron-Walker was one of four people held hostage by a gunman at his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue on Saturday.   (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP)

(Newser) – Will there be copycats? That is the "palpable fear" at synagogues around the country after the hostage-taking in Texas over the weekend, an exec with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York tells the New York Times. Mitchell D. Silber adds a jarring observation: “More and more, the Jewish community has accepted that unfortunately what it means to be a Jew in the United States in 2022 is that your institution needs to have guards, checkpoints, and security." More on that and related coverage:

  • Different world: The Texas rabbi who led the dramatic escape of hostages has credited the training he received from law-enforcement in recent years, and the Times notes that such training has ramped up since the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. “The Jewish community security world is looked at as pre-Tree of Life and post-Tree of Life,” says Stuart Frisch of the Secure Community Network.

  • Unacceptable: In a Washington Post op-ed, Michael Gerson notes that armed guards and traffic barriers are indeed routine aspects of services at his neighborhood synagogue. But we shouldn't accept this as a new normal, he writes. "It is not. It is a scandal of the first order when religious worship in America involves routine fear." His piece explores modern anti-Semitism and ways to combat it.
  • The attacker: The lone British gunman who staged the attack, Malik Faisal Akram, had been on the radar of security officials in the UK as recently as 2020, reports the Guardian. The MI5 agency investigated him as a "subject of interest" and a potential terrorist but ultimately concluded he posed no risk and should not be barred from traveling abroad. Akram died when his four hostages escaped and police moved in, though it's unclear whether he took his own life or was killed by police.
  • Brother to brother: One of the people urging Akram to free the hostages and turn himself in during the 11-hour ordeal in Texas was his brother, Gulbar Akram, by phone from the UK. “When I phoned him during the siege, I tried to speak, talk him down,” Gulbar Akram tells the New York Times. “And he said no, he refused.” He added that his brother had mental health issues and should not have been allowed to travel abroad.
  • On call: In a separate interview with Sky News, Gulbar Akram said his brother was actually on the phone speaking to his children when he was killed. (He believes police killed his brother, though that has not been confirmed.) "Why did they have to kill him? They didn't need to do that." He also said his brother told him that he did not intend to leave the synagogue alive.
(Read more synagogue stories.)

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