A Rabbi Who Spoke With The Armed Hostage Taker In Texas Spoke Out About It For The First Time
"I saw firsthand that you can't negotiate with a terrorist," she said.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl was surprised to see she had a voicemail waiting for her Saturday morning, but when she heard the message, she discovered she had been unwillingly thrust into the middle of the violent standoff inside a Texas synagogue where four people were being held hostage.
"We have an actual gunman who is claiming to have bombs and he wants to talk to you," Buchdahl said during a sermon Friday at Central Synagogue. The message, she said, came from Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, hundreds of miles away at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville. "If you can call me back at this number, that would be greatly appreciated. This is not a joke."
In her Shabbat sermon, Buchdahl gave her first account of speaking to a man who would hold four people hostage in the Colleyville synagogue for more than 11 hours. FBI Director Christopher Wray has called the attack an "act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community." The armed man, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram of the United Kingdom, is believed to have demanded the release of a terrorist convicted of plotting to kill American soldiers and blow up the Statue of Liberty.
None of the hostages were harmed, but the incident has shaken the Jewish community and, as Buchdahl offered in her sermon, has been an unsettling reminder about antisemitism across the US.
"I knew I would be addressing you, my beloved community, and you would need words of comfort and hope from your rabbi," she said. "But I do not have those words for you. Not yet."
Saturday's incident served as a grim reminder about the rise in extremism, she said.
"I cannot assure you that this will not happen again," she said. "I do not have a neat pronouncement for how we will fight back the alarming, ugly growth of antisemitism."
Yet returning to synagogues, and celebrating Shabbat once more, was a sign that a sense of hope wouldn't be elusive forever.
"This is what resilience looks like," she said. "We go back to our sanctuaries. We claim Shabbat. We support each other in community."
Buchdahl confirmed she spoke twice to Akram, leaving her shaken.
"I saw firsthand that you can't negotiate with a terrorist," she said. "And more and more people in our country and around the globe are captivated by terrifying, hateful ideologies, which they value more than their own lives."
Akram ultimately died in a "shooting incident" after the hourslong standoff with officers, but it wasn't immediately clear who fired the fatal shot.
Akram had been welcomed into the Colleyville synagogue, where Cytron-Walker offered him tea during the cold day. Buchdahl offered few details about what the armed man requested or why he had asked to speak to her during the standoff.
"When the gunman called me a second time, he told me, 'I am running out of patience, and you are running out of time,'" she said. "I had already talked to the authorities. I knew there was nothing else I could do but wait and pray. And I really prayed — a trembling, pleading prayer."
Buchdahl said she feels as though her prayers were answered. The hostages were able to escape unharmed, even if members of the Jewish community continue to be held captive by the fear of antisemitism, or the possibility of another attack.
"I also know if we only build fortresses around our sanctuaries and around our hearts, then hate wins," she said. "We've emerged. But now we are angry and fearful, and I cannot tell you not to feel those things. I am feeling them myself, and I don't quite know what to do next.
"I'm not yet ready to muster a message of optimism tonight," she added. "But I cannot escape it eventually, because we as a Jewish people are unshakably, doggedly, eternally, captives of hope."