Naftali Bennett to Colleyville rabbi: We are brothers

Bennett expressed solidarity and support following the hostage incident that took place on Saturday, in which the rabbi and three others were taken hostage by a gunman named Malik Faisal Akram.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a press conference on January 11, 2022 (photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a press conference on January 11, 2022
(photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)

Israel prayed for the safety of the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the synagogue’s Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker on Sunday evening.

Bennett expressed solidarity and support following the hostage incident that took place on Saturday, in which the rabbi and three others were taken hostage by a gunman named Malik Faisal Akram.

“I was so relieved to hear that you and the other hostages are safe and sound,” Bennett said. “Your leadership in this time of crisis was admirable.”

Bennett added that “Israel stands united with the Jewish community in Colleyville. I was praying here for your safety, together with the rest of Israel… Please send strength to your congregation.

“We are brothers,” the prime minister stated.

 Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA) Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA)

Cytron-Walker shared his account of the hostage situation with Bennett, as well as the rescue by the FBI and his community’s resilience, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The rabbi was very touched by the phone call and expressed his appreciation to Bennett, a source with knowledge of the call said.

Earlier Sunday, at the opening of a cabinet meeting, Bennett said: “To the Jewish community in the US and diaspora Jewry around the world, I say: You are not alone. We are one family and we stand strong and united together.”

“This event is a stark reminder that the dark forces of antisemitism still exist,” he added. “We must and we will do what we can to fight it.”

Bennett thanked law enforcement for their “swift response and courageous action.”

In Hebrew, Bennett said he spent the night worried about the hostage situation, and that he wants to strengthen the Jewish community in Colleyville, Texas and the US more broadly, who have “have dealt in recent years with rising antisemitism and a feeling of a lack of basic security.”

“This is a moment of mutual responsibility, and we are like one family with our Jewish brothers in the Diaspora, just as they are with us in times of trouble,” he added.

Bennett also spoke with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday, thanking him “for the determined and professional action by the law enforcement authorities in his state, which brought the incident to a peaceful conclusion,” the Prime Minister’s Office stated.

The prime minister thanked Abbott for his solidarity with the Jewish community in Colleyville and all of Texas, and his support for Israel and opposition to antisemitism and the BDS movement.

Bennett also invited Abbott to visit Israel.

An FBI Hostage Rescue Team stormed Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday night after an 11-hour standoff to free three remaining hostages from Akram, who demanded the release of Pakistani al-Qaeda-affiliated Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence for multiple felonies, including trying to kill US Army officers.

The gunman entered the synagogue during Shabbat morning services, holding Cytron-Walker and three others at gunpoint. One man was released earlier six hours later.

Akram was pronounced dead after law enforcement entered the synagogue. Authorities have yet to definitively identify the man or clarify how he died, nor if any of the supposed weapons had been recovered. 

Ariella Marsden contributed to this report.