By now you have probably heard of the hostage-taking that is underway at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. CNN didn’t break the news for me. I got word of it from a childhood friend, a cantor at another Reform synagogue in Dallas, who told me she was watching the whole thing live on Facebook.
By the time the video feed was cut—like many American synagogues, it had livestreamed services because of the pandemic—there were thousands of people tuning in.
We managed to record a good deal of it. And we are sharing it here because we think it is newsworthy information.
At points, the audio is hard to hear, but you will make out the hostage-taker pinging between demands about someone he identifies as his sister (“you get my sister on the phone” and “fucking do something man or you are going to get a casualty”) and rants about America (“what the fuck is wrong with America?” and “either there’s something wrong with me or there’s something wrong with America.”) At one point we hear who we think is the rabbi tell someone on the phone (presumably law enforcement or negotiator) that “no one is harmed.”
In another clip you again hear him referring again to his “sister,” saying she is "as good as dead” and that “I would rather be dead . . . and I would rather these four gentlemen be alive, so I will give you a crappy deal.”
Who is the sister?
ABC, CNN, and NBC are reporting that the hostage-taker is likely referring to Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving out an 86-year sentence at a prison in Texas for multiple felonies and terrorism charges. A lawyer who previously represented Siddiqui’s biological brother, Muhammad Siddiqui, is telling news outlets that her actual brother, Muhammad, is not the suspect currently in Beth Israel.
It is unclear the relation (if any) between the suspect and Aafia Siddiqui. Terrorism experts say it is not uncommon for her to be referred to as “sister” by jihadis. Perhaps this is what the hostage-taker means.
This and so many other questions remain unanswered. What we know is that the situation at Congregation Beth Israel, which is helmed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, is still unfolding. According to news reports, he, along with at least three others, are still being held hostage.
For now, we are praying for these innocent people who were doing what countless Americans do most weekends—exercising their freedom to worship with friends and family. A momentary reprieve from the world and its many pains and heartaches.
UPDATE: 8 P.M. EST.
The Colleyville Police Department released the following statement announcing that one of the male hostages was released uninjured.
UPDATE: 11 P.M. EST.
All of the hostages are safe. The hostage-taker is dead.