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'The building is filled with joy and gratitude' | Colleyville synagogue continues to heal after January hostage situation

After a 12-hour standoff with a hostage-taker, members of Congregation Beth Israel say they're stepping forward with love, community and activism.

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — In the last week, the U.S. has seen acts of hate and racism across the nation.

From shootings believed to be racially motivated in Dallas' Koreatown area, to a grocery store in New York and a California church.

Months before those incidents, there was Colleyville.

A 12-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel, where a gunman held four members hostage and made anti-Semitic remarks. Police say a man came to the synagogue from Great Britain.

These days, the silence in the synagogue can be peaceful, but also a reminder of a time when that peace wasn't promised.

"Coming in just a few days after the crisis, I was really struck with how the synagogue was empty, and silent. It felt violated and not at all the place full of life and love and learning that it had been," said Anna Salton Eisen. 

Eisen was watching the service livestream on January 15 when the gunman interrupted. She watched the crisis unfold from the very beginning.

"It was very painful," she said. "I mean, I am the child of two Holocaust survivors. And I've been to Poland several times and visited many desolate, barren, destroyed synagogues. And it kind of reminded me of that experience."

Jeff Cohen was one of the four that was held hostage. He says his experience changed him in many ways.

For one, he says he's always looking for exits anytime he walks in a room.

The second evolved over time.

"And the other thing that I've become very engaged in is the dangers of racist and anti-Semitic tropes," said Cohen. "We all have an uncle or somebody who we know is racist, and we just roll our eyes and just wish that they wouldn't say anything. I don't do that anymore. And I'm encouraging others not to."

"You need to stand up, you need to question it."

Congregation Beth Israel has since been repaired and reopened.

"We made a point, when we had to repair the building, we have different carpet, and the paint color is different. It was tan, and now it's blue," said Eisen. "So in a way, it was encouraged to make it look different and new. So that it's a new chapter or, you know, the memories are kind of pushed away."

But the synagogue is still constantly going through changes. 

"We'd love to have more members, of course," said Michael Berkman. "And new faces brings with it the challenge of being sure that we maintain our levels of security and, but still being welcoming."

Their house of worship is restored and they're bringing back the peace.

"The building is filled with joy and gratitude and we will not surrender to any fear or hopelessness," said Eisen.

 

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