When the rabbi at the center of January’s synagogue hostage standoff first encountered the stranger who would soon hold him at gunpoint, he served him a cup of tea. Eleven hours later, as part of a daring escape, the rabbi threw a chair at him.
The teacup and the chair, items that together depict the terrifying arc of the synagogue hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, are now becoming literal artifacts of the American Jewish experience.
Congregation Beth Israel has donated the items to the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia for a new exhibit on modern-day antisemitism in America, which will open to the public this spring. The exhibit will be accompanied by a video interview with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and the three congregants who were held hostage inside his synagogue by a British-Pakistani national.
“‘The Cup and The Chair’ are not only artifacts that document a historic event but are symbolic of fundamental Jewish values: ‘Welcoming strangers’ and ‘Redeeming captives,'” Misha Galperin, the Weitzman museum’s president and CEO, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency via email.
“They also represent the basic American ideals of embracing newcomers and bravery in the face of danger. This is what Jewish Americans aspire to be and what the Weitzman Museum aspires to represent.”
The items will be placed on the museum’s ground floor, with high visibility to the public. The Weitzman’s chief curator and director of exhibitions and interpretation, Josh Perelman, said the intent is “to serve as a reminder of our collective responsibility for protecting and expanding the ideals enshrined at Independence Hall.”
The synagogue had not revealed the names of two of the hostages, congregants Lawrence Schwartz and Shane Woodward, prior to the announcement of the museum exhibit, though Woodward had previously been identified as a hostage by a Jewish gun-rights YouTube channel.
The events in Colleyville invigorated a national conversation on antisemitism in America, with Jews and non-Jews alike seeing fresh evidence of its unsettling prevalence. In its aftermath, Cytron-Walker testified before Congress and became a national advocate for increased synagogue security funding. He is leaving Congregation Beth Israel in July to lead a synagogue in North Carolina.
“We look forward to a time when future generations will not endure this Anti-Semitic hatred,” Congregation Beth Israel’s board of directors said in a statement. “The Weitzman Museum will play a large part in allowing the public to visit and learn as well as protect religious freedoms for Jews in America and worldwide.”
The Philadelphia museum opened with great fanfare in 2010 and entered bankruptcy in last year, exiting after a gift from the fashion designer Stuart Weitzman allowed it to purchase its building and establish an endowment.