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Law enforcement teams stage near Congregation Beth Israel while conducting SWAT operations in Colleyville, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2022.Elias Valverde/The Associated Press

In the interest of safety, they found themselves in danger. In a period when the principal threat was an international pandemic, they were threatened by the backwash of a faraway international dispute. In an afternoon and evening of fear, they rekindled memories of terror across the continent and across the globe.

Though it unfolded when a handful of congregants, including the rabbi, were in the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel facilitating streaming the Sabbath service online, though at the centre of the episode was a convicted terrorist jailed only kilometres away, and though the captives were released safely after the boom of an explosion and a burst of gunfire, the hostage drama that unfolded Saturday in Colleyville, Tex., was no isolated incident. It happened three years after 11 were killed at prayer at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh and after, on the last day of Passover 2019, one Jew was killed and three injured during services at the Chabad of Poway, Calif.

“The connections with the politics of the Middle East and the threats of terrorism are all involved in this,” said David Berger, former Canadian ambassador to Israel. “These threats come from everywhere, and they are frightening, and horrifying, and they hit close to home, because attending services on Saturday is perhaps the most important part of Jewish community life.”

As the hostage crisis continued, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was in the synagogue sanctuary during the 2018 Pittsburgh shooting, was at a prayer vigil marking Havdalah, the end of the Jewish Sabbath. Online and in-person, similar vigils were conducted across North America in synagogues that Montreal’s Rabbi Lisa Grushcow called “places of spiritual activity and holy work.” At 9:30 ET Saturday night, a thousand Reform rabbis prayed together online. Hundreds of members of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, N.J., gathered online for a vigil of their own. Rabbi Joel Sisenwine of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Mass., sent out an e-mail reassuring congregants that “at this time, we know of no threats to our congregation.”

The shudders moved from shul, the Yiddish word for “synagogue,” to shul.

“This scenario, along with what happened in Pittsburgh, is every rabbi’s worse nightmare – to be in the midst of Shabbat services and to have such a horrible act occur,” said Ms. Grushcow, leader of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom. “In the rabbinic world, there is one or two degrees of separation, and all of us are navigating how to come back in the midst of the pandemic. In the last two years, we have been worrying about something else. We have tried to be together in prayer during a pandemic and to have something like this happen is a kick in the gut.”

And yet the crisis in a Fort Worth suburb had a dreary familiarity, shattering the serenity of the Sabbath not only within the walls of Congregation Beth Israel but also across the continent.

“When you are in synagogue, you feel protected,” said Robert Elman of Montreal, co-founder of the Ukrainian-Jewish Dialogue. “You don’t imagine when you are sitting there that something horrible is going to happen. If you aren’t safe there, then where?”

Though the synagogue is located in the suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the seeds of the hostage crisis were sown far from Texas, in Afghanistan, where the Islamist extremist Aafia Siddiqui – a figure shrouded in myth, mystery and celebrity and also a fervent, outspoken antisemite whose release has become a cause célèbre among Islamists – was charged with attempting to kill Americans.

The hostage-taker was identified on Sunday as British national Malik Faisal Akram. Before he was shot and killed after the last of the hostages got out, the 44-year-old demanded the release of the woman with a degree from the largely-Jewish Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., who is known as “Lady al-Qaeda,” and who is serving an 86-year sentence in Fort Worth’s Federal Medical Center prison for women with physical and mental-health issues.

“It’s a sad reality that these things continue to happen,” said Alan Solomont, retired dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and former chair of the board of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. “People will try to do good, but this clouds all the good things that this rabbi has done to try to create a world of love and not of hate.”

That rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has led the Colleyville congregation since 2006, was known for his outreach to other faith communities.

“Even as a student he was very committed to outreach, and he has built his rabbinic career on the same values, especially the diversity of community,” said Rabbi Kenneth Kanter, who was director of the rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and who taught Mr. Cytron-Walker in his senior seminar of practical rabbinics. “He set a lot of high standards for his classmates, and was a student who was determined to work not only with the Jews.”

The rabbi toiled in a community where his congregants were a tiny minority. “He is the kind of a guy who brings different groups together – Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” said Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh and a friend of the Colleyville rabbi. “He is the best of the best.”

The young Charlie Cytron-Walker recruited the young Melissa Ellstein to join the National Federation of Temple Youth chapter he headed as a high-school student in Lansing, Mich. “Charlie was a really engaging, nice, kind, gentle soul,” she recalled Saturday evening. “He threw himself into the youth group even though we had a very small group.”

The hostage-taker’s rant went on as Mr. Cytron-Walker was in the section of the service called the Amidah, the central prayer of Judaism, and as those watching at home, safe on their couches and easy chair, saw on the screen these words: “My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception. Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue.”

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