Revealed: MI5 investigated Texas synagogue terrorist but allowed him to go to US

January 18, 2022

Above: Just a little light humor before the rest of this serious dispatch.

 



Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway's worst modern peacetime atrocity in July 2011, gave a Nazi salute this morning (Tuesday) as he entered court for a parole hearing that will decide if he should be released after spending only a decade behind bars. Breivik killed eight people with a car bomb in Oslo and then gunned down 69, most of them teenagers, at a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp.

In court today he also displayed a sign printed in English that said "Stop your genocide against our white nations". Breivik, now 42, is serving Norway's maximum sentence of 21 years. Breivik lost a human rights case in 2017 when an appeals court overturned the decision of a lower court that his near-isolation in a three-room cell was "inhumane".

 




"HE HAD BEEN INVITED INTO THE SYNAGOGUE FOR TEA AFTER KNOCKING ON THE DOOR DURING SABBATH PRAYERS"

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach pieces regarding Saturday's synagogue siege near Dallas from today's Guardian, Times of London, and New York Times, as well as a piece from the (London) Jewish Chronicle.

Jeff Cohen, one of the people held hostage by British Islamist terrorist Malik Faisal Akram said that the gunman told the hostages that he chose Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas because it was the closest synagogue to the prison where the so-called "Lady al-Qaeda," Aafia Siddiqui, is being held.

Akram subscribed to multiple antisemitic conspiracy theories and was convinced that the Jews inside the tiny Congregation Beth Israel could "instruct" the US government to free the Pakistani prisoner, who is serving an 86-year sentence for terrorism.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said he had allowed the gunman into the synagogue because it had appeared as if Akram was looking for somewhere to get warm. "He had been invited into the synagogue for tea after knocking on the door during Sabbath prayers," the rabbi said afterwards.

 

CONTENTS

1. "MI5 investigated Texas synagogue hostage-taker in 2020: UK intelligence concluded Malik Faisal Akram posed no threat, which allowed him to travel to US and buy gun" (The Guardian, Jan. 18, 2022)
2. "Texas synagogue siege: Hostage-taker had fixation on terrorist" (The London Times, Jan. 18, 2022)
3. "It is grotesque to assert that the Texas synagogue siege was not motivated by antisemitism" (By Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Jewish Chronicle, Jan. 17, 2022)
4. "The Hostages Escaped. But Synagogues Ask, How Can They Be More Secure?" (New York Times, Jan. 17, 2022)
5. "Going to Services Should Not Be an Act of Courage" (By Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, New York Times, Jan. 18, 2022)

 

ARTICLES

MI5 INVESTIGATED TEXAS SYNAGOGUE HOSTAGE-TAKER

MI5 investigated Texas synagogue hostage-taker in 2020
UK intelligence concluded Malik Faisal Akram posed no threat, which allowed him to travel to US and buy gun
By Dan Sabbagh
The Guardian
January 18, 2022

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/18/mi5-investigated-texas-synagogue-hostage-taker-malik-faisal-akram-in-2020

The British man who took hostages at a Texas synagogue had been under investigation by MI5 as a possible Islamist terrorist threat as recently as 2020, Whitehall sources have acknowledged.

British intelligence closed the investigation, however, after officers had concluded Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn posed no threat, and as a result he was able to travel freely to the US and purchase a gun.

It is understood the investigation was "mid-level" and took place in the second half of 2020 ? but once it had ended Akram was left as a closed subject of interest on MI5's records, and no information of concern appears to have been passed to the US authorities before the synagogue attack.

The Security Service's investigation lasted "over four weeks", a source said. But it ended with an assessment that Akram did not pose a jihadist terror risk and there was no reason to prevent him from travelling abroad.

The acknowledgment is a particular embarrassment to the agency, which prides itself on a close working relationship with its US counterparts. The FBI has known about MI5's previous investigation for some time, although British sources declined to say whether they had apologised.

Akram, a 44-year-old from Blackburn, was killed after an 11-hour hostage standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville on Saturday evening. All four hostages survived the siege unharmed.

President Joe Biden on Sunday declared the incident an act of terrorism and the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the UK government condemned "this act of terrorism and antisemitism".

Akram had a criminal record in the UK but no known terror convictions. Investigators and family members say he had a history of mental health issues.

He had been the subject of an exclusion order in 2001 banning him from Blackburn magistrates court after he made remarks about the 9/11 attacks on the US, saying he wished a court usher had been on a plane flown into buildings to commit mass murder.

Akram travelled to the US around the time of the new year, and spent time in homeless shelters in Dallas. He was brought to a shelter in downtown Dallas on 2 January by a man who hugged him and had conversations with him, said Wayne Walker, the CEO and pastor of OurCalling, which provides services to homeless people.

Asked by reporters on Sunday how Akram could have procured weapons in the US, Biden said: "The assertion was he got the weapons on the street. He purchased them when he landed."

As the siege unfolded, the FBI asked British police to get Akram's family to try to talk him into surrendering. They spoke to Akram as he held hostages, but could not convince him to give himself up.

In a statement to Sky News on Monday, Akram's brother Gulbar asked how he had been able to acquire a visa to enter the US. "He's known to police. Got a criminal record. How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?" he said.

British detectives continued to question two teenagers arrested in Manchester who are both believed to be male. They are being questioned to see if they knew anything about Akram's intentions to travel to the US to stage the attack.

 

TEXAS SYNAGOGUE SIEGE: HOSTAGE-TAKER HAD FIXATION ON TERRORIST

Texas synagogue siege: Hostage-taker had fixation on terrorist
By Fiona Hamilton, Duncan Gardham, Neil Johnston, Emma Yeomans, Keiran Southern in Dallas, and Haroon Janjua in Islamabad
The (London) Times
January 18, 2022

The British man shot dead after an 11-hour siege at a synagogue in Texas was fixated on the release of an Islamist prisoner known as Lady al-Qaeda and had argued with his family after moving to a conservative strand of Islam.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, repeatedly said he wanted to go to America to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist linked to the terrorist group.

Akram, who went to the US a fortnight ago, demanded her release on Saturday in exchange for four hostages he took at a synagogue in Colleyville, three miles from Dallas. Siddiqui is serving an 86-year-old sentence for trying to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. She is held in Fort Worth, Texas.

There are questions about how Akram, whose family said he had a criminal record, was able to travel to the US, where he bought a handgun. Investigators are trying to establish if he lied on his tourist visa waiver, which requires offences to be declared.

The leader of a homeless shelter where Akram stayed for three nights before the attack said he could not have been in possession of a gun there.

Bruce Butler, the chief executive of Union Gospel Mission Dallas, said all visitors are screened for weapons and there were no obvious warning signs Akram was dangerous. He added: "We check people. We have no reason to believe he had [a gun]. We checked him, we check everybody who comes in." There were "no apparent issues" with Akram, Butler said. He was "very quiet".

Whitehall officials refused to comment on claims that he was known to the Security Service. His arrival raised no red flags in the United States, where President Biden declared the incident an act of terrorism. All four hostages were freed without injury but Akram was shot dead by an FBI rescue team.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS he and the others rushed for an exit door after he threw a chair at Akram, who had referred to them as "four beautiful Jews". He had been invited into the synagogue for tea after knocking on the door during Sabbath prayers. Akram was known to have mental health problems. He was banned from Blackburn magistrates' court the day after the September 11 attacks in 2001 for telling an usher he wished he had died on the flights.

Associates in Blackburn said that Akram, who was estranged from his wife and had six children, had a temper and tried to impose his strict religious values on others. They said he had become increasingly religious, had distanced himself from his family and had taken to Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strain of Islam.

Akram's criminal record included an assault connected with a drug deal, violent disorder and driving offences. It is understood that he had never been arrested for terrorism offences.

Biden said Akram had bought a handgun in "the street" after his arrival in the US. Akram's brother, Gulbar, and other relatives spoke to him during the siege to try to persuade him to surrender. Gulbar said in a statement: "There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender."

Two teenagers arrested in Manchester in connection with the Texas siege were being questioned last night.

PROFILE

The name Aafia Siddiqui may not mean much to most Britons but for her supporters, who include not only militant Islamists but also many fellow Pakistanis, including the prime minister Imran Khan, her case has become a rallying cry for the perceived injustices of the "war on terror" (Richard Spencer writes in The London Times).

In the US she is serving 86 years and has been called Lady al-Qaeda for her alleged ties to the group.

That sentence was for attempting to kill American soldiers, and resulted from an extraordinary incident during her interrogation for her role as a jihadist organiser and fundraiser in July 2008. She was being held for questioning in Kabul when she grabbed an M4 rifle and opened fire. She was the only person to be injured ? shot in the stomach while being subdued.

She was charged with attempted murder, but never charged with terrorism offences. That fact has proved enough to provoke years of conspiracy theories and claims of injustice.

 

IT IS GROTESQUE TO ASSERT THAT THE TEXAS SYNAGOGUE SIEGE WAS NOT MOTIVATED BY ANTISEMITISM

It is grotesque to assert that the Texas synagogue siege was not motivated by antisemitism
We cannot allow Jewish suffering to be erased, says Britain's former Reform senior rabbi
By Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Jewish Chronicle
January 17, 2022

https://www.thejc.com/lets-talk/all/it-is-grotesque-to-assert-that-the-texas-synagogue-siege-was-not-motivated-by-antisemitism-7Aua92yuTI2CZmGIknTNTt

Let's call a spade a spade, or a Magen David a Magen David. How on earth could anyone ignore the totally Jewish context of this weekend's terrorist incident at Congregation Beth Israel in Texas? It occurred during a livestreamed bar-mitzvah service and the hostages taken included a rabbi. And yet the FBI suggested on television just a few hours after the hostages were released that the attack "was not specifically related to the Jewish community".

It's like stating that a demonstration in Parliament Square has no connection to influencing the members of Parliament opposite.

For Reform Jewish communities like Congregation Beth Israel, online Shabbat services have been a lifeline over the last two years. Ensuring that all congregants have felt catered for, including many who are elderly or live alone, rabbis and lay leaders have used technology to provide socially distanced pastoral and spiritual content. During an uncertain and difficult pandemic, these online spaces have been an oasis of stability and comfort. Many could only watch with horror as their community, their physical and virtual sanctuary, was violated by an armed terrorist.

Places of worship should be safe spaces by default. This has not always been the case ? particularly in the US. Antisemitic attacks in recent years, such as the Tree of Life massacre in 2018 or the Poway synagogue shooting in 2019, have targeted all Jewish denominations with the same brands of hate. In both of those cases, white supremacist terrorists (subscribing to 'white genocide' conspiracy theories obsessed with Jews) have singled out Jewish spaces as part of their racist agendas.

Saturday's attack took on a different flavour, committed by a terrorist in the name of Islam using a language of "liberation" towards his "sister" Aafia Siddiqui (her family have denied any relationship), a convicted deeply antisemitic terrorist jailed in the US for the attempted murder of its citizens. Similar attacks are not without tragic precedent, especially in Europe; in 2015 the kosher supermarket attack in Paris and the Copenhagen Synagogue shooting were both fatal.

We must face such hateful ideologies head-on.

The FBI seemed to claim at first that the suspect in Texas was "singularly focused" on Aafia Siddiqui's release, not on the Jewish community per se. This implies that the worshippers in the synagogue were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, that the suspect would have held up anywhere to make his point. Within a few moments, Jewish suffering was being erased from a clearly antisemitic attack.

We cannot allow this to happen. We must centre the Jewish community in discussions around synagogue attacks and work harder to include Jews in antiracist and anti-extremist activism.

To reach the FBI's conclusion we would have to switch off our mental faculties totally and ignore the fact that Siddiqui, a member of Al-Qaeda, has suggested that Jews "backstab" those who "take pity on them", leading to "repeated holocausts". At her trial, Siddiqui demanded that prospective jurors were DNA tested to check for a "Zionist background", stating that the case against her was a Jewish conspiracy and, in order to give her a "fair" trial, Jewish lawyers and jurors be excluded from the courtroom.

This attack was clearly motivated, in no small part, by Jew-hatred. To assert otherwise only enables complacency around Western or Islamist antisemitism to grow. This is something that the Jewish community cannot afford, especially in Texas, where Jews have experienced continuous attacks throughout Covid-19 at the hands of Goyim.tv and other antisemitic organisations.

In 2018 the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council opened a Dallas branch near to Congregation Beth Israel, proving there is local, national and international appetite among both minority groups for collaboration on shared issues and to further cohesion between communities. Facing the wider world together makes us all stronger and diminishes the voice of hate-peddlers. Meanwhile, the universal care and concern directed towards the Jewish community from a diverse host of quarters over the last 48 hours must be commended. Yet this cannot just be lip service against antisemitism - it must translate into action.

Jewish communities - and any groups bound together by shared identities or destinies - must not be afraid to continue to operate proudly and adapt. Sadly, many Jewish communities have longstanding and necessary security protocols, and while Beth Israel did not have an active security patrol, it did have an existing relationship with local law enforcement. Practising our right to assemble and worship as a community is more crucial now than ever.

We must not be cowed by the forces of regression hoping to instil fear and drive us away from our much-needed communal institutions, wherever these voices come from. In a new landscape of Zoom services and 'Facebook Lives', the joy of being together as a community must be protected as a precious resource. In an interconnected world, the trauma, and then the relief, of Beth Israel can be shared by all of us who saw videos of the livestream.

We must not equivocate. This came out of antisemitism, and until we confront the reality that there is an epidemic of it threatening our online and in-person communities, we have no hope of tackling it.

 

THE HOSTAGES ESCAPED. BUT SYNAGOGUES ASK, HOW CAN THEY BE MORE SECURE?

The Hostages Escaped. But Synagogues Ask, How Can They Be More Secure?
The hostages whispered instructions and edged closer to the door ? part of invaluable training that anxious congregations are using.
New York Times
Jan. 17, 2022

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/17/us/texas-synagogue-hostages-escape.html

DALLAS ? For 11 hours, the hostages talked to the ranting gunman, hoping that he would see them as human. They whispered about strategies. And they surreptitiously edged toward the nearest exit.

But when the gunman ordered the men to kneel, they decided they had to take action. The rabbi grabbed a chair and heaved it at the gunman. The hostages ran for the door.

The rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, has been called heroic for his cool head and the decisive leadership that led to the dramatic escape of three hostages on Saturday from Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.

But by his own account on Monday, and that of another hostage, Jeffrey Cohen, it was years of security training, prompted by threats to synagogues, that allowed them to escape.

In an interview, Rabbi Cytron-Walker said he had taken part in at least four separate trainings in recent years, from the Colleyville Police Department, the F.B.I., the Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit group that provides security resources to Jewish institutions nationally.

The sessions taught him that "if you get in this situation, you have to do whatever you can," he said. "It gave me the courage and the sensibility to act when we were able."

Acts of sudden violence have become a grim part of American life. In cities and small towns, churches, schools and concert venues have become the settings for terrifying scenes of mayhem.

Synagogues have been even more acutely aware of threats since 2018, when an assailant armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and multiple handguns entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on a Saturday morning. The man, who was shouting antisemitic slurs, killed 11 people.

"The Jewish community security world is looked at as pre-Tree of Life and post-Tree of Life," said Stuart Frisch, a national training and exercise adviser at the Secure Community Network.

In August, Mr. Frisch provided an hourslong training session to Rabbi Cytron-Walker and several dozen congregants in the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Israel.

Jonathan Greenblatt, who leads the Anti-Defamation League, said that Jewish congregants and synagogue leaders are more actively participating. "They've all done active shooter drills," he said. "They've all learned how to handle a hostage situation. They've all learned how to cope with terrorism."

Rabbi Cytron-Walker compared the courses he took to C.P.R. training, noting that it is rarely needed, but crucial when the moment arises.

"This kind of instruction is necessary for all of us as a society," he said. "Whether it's synagogues or grocery stores or mosques or shopping malls, it can happen."

On Sunday, President Biden called the Colleyville attack an "act of terror," and the F.B.I. was investigating it as a "terrorism-related matter." The suspect, Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, died, according to the police.

Mitchell D. Silber, the executive director of the community security initiative at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said that there was a palpable fear that copycat attacks could occur in the coming weeks.

"More and more, the Jewish community has accepted that unfortunately what it means to be a Jew in the United States in 2022 is that your institution needs to have guards, checkpoints and security," Mr. Silber said.

The training in Colleyville helped the hostages escape.

Mr. Cohen, who is identified on the synagogue's website as its vice president, said in a Facebook post on Monday that the training from the Secure Community Network "saved our lives ? I am not speaking in hyperbole here."

He described a series of subtle strategies that set up the hostages with the opportunity to make an escape. When he was instructed to sit down, he chose a row with clear access to an exit. When he had an opportunity to rub a fellow hostage's shoulders, he whispered to him about the exit door. And when pizza was delivered, he suggested another hostage retrieve it from the door. Eventually all the hostages were within 20 feet of the exit.

At another point, Mr. Cohen used his feet to slowly move chairs in front of himself to potentially divert bullets or shrapnel.

In the beginning, there were four hostages, Rabbi Cytron-Walker said, and they were able to build enough good will with the gunman that one of them was released around 5 p.m. The other three remained as night fell, but conversations with law enforcement were not going well.

"There was a lot more yelling, a lot more threatening," Rabbi Cytron-Walker said.

By around 9 p.m., the three men were near enough to an exit and were poised to run "if the opportunity arose," he said. "There was a real immediacy."

Mr. Cohen wrote that he was prepared to wrap his prayer shawl around Mr. Akram's neck or shooting hand, but he did not get the chance.

When Mr. Akram instructed the hostages to get on their knees, he wrote, "I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly. I think I slowly moved my head and mouthed NO."

At that moment, Rabbi Cytron-Walker told the men to run, threw the chair, and bolted for the exit, where a SWAT team ushered them to safety. Law enforcement then entered the building.

"We escaped," Mr. Cohen wrote in his account on Facebook. "We weren't released or freed."

Their escape, however, won't be the last word on how to handle security.

The Colleyville attack is likely to force congregations to debate something central to a congregation's sense of self: just how wide to open their doors.

Mr. Akram was let in as an act of kindness. Rabbi Cytron-Walker said that he had let the stranger in before Shabbat services that morning. It was an unusually cold day in North Texas, and the rabbi thought he was just coming in to get warm. He said that he made the man some hot tea.

Stacey Silverman, until recently a member of Congregation Beth Israel, wondered why Mr. Akram would have been let inside on Saturday morning. After the deadly shootings at the at the Tree of Life temple in Pittsburgh and Chabad Poway in Poway, Ca., Ms. Silverman said the congregation began locking the doors consistently, Ms. Silverman said.

More American synagogues seemed to be embracing security measures like the ones in Europe, said Mr. Greenblatt, who leads the Anti-Defamation League.

"In Europe, Jews have learned to live ? from Istanbul to Madrid, to London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen ? with very intense security precautions," he said. "And what I would suggest to you is that a number of leaders in our community are concerned that that is now here."

Over the weekend, the Jewish Federations of North America announced that it was speeding up the launch of a $54 million program to drastically expand its security initiatives. The Secure Community Network is a partner in the effort.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, took classes on security and situational awareness through the Jewish Federation shortly before the shooting there.

"I'm alive today because I had that kind of training," he reflected on Monday. "The sense of sanctuary that houses of worship in America used to be able to provide has disappeared."

As it is, the anxieties spurred by the hostage-taking in Texas have reverberated across communities in the New York City region, which is home to more than one million Jews, the world's largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

The New York Police Department temporarily sent extra patrols to several synagogues and "key Jewish institutions" around the city over the weekend, though they had not received any credible threats.

At Park East Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Benny Rogosnitzky, a cantor, said that leaders are "always on high alert." Still, after Saturday's hostage taking spurred deeper anxieties among congregants, the synagogue plans to post additional security guards at entrances and closely monitor foot traffic.

"You think to yourself that if this goes to Texas, in a tiny community with so few people attending services, it really can happen anywhere," Cantor Rogosnitzky said, adding that finding a balance between safety and neighborliness has become a significant challenge.

"It's a very, very sensitive line that we have to walk," he said. "You want the house of God to be a place that's open to people. If you walk past our building and to get into the synagogue, and you see two or three armed security guards, that doesn't give you a feeling of closeness or intimacy with God."

 

GOING TO SERVICES SHOULD NOT BE AN ACT OF COURAGE

Going to Services Should Not Be an Act of Courage
By Deborah E. Lipstadt
New York Times
Jan. 18, 2022

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/opinion/texas-colleyville-antisemitism.html

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, matir asurim. Blessed are you, God, sovereign of the universe, who frees the captives.

Look in virtually any prayer book of any stream of Judaism and you will find this prayer in the section known as Blessings of the Dawn. The invocation comes right at the beginning. So integral is this idea to the Jewish psyche, we praise God again for freeing captives during the Amidah, one of the liturgy's most central prayers.

Late Saturday night, as news came of the safe conclusion of the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, I ? together with many other Jews around the world ? recited that blessing. Tears, for many of us, flowed freely. We shared it. We posted it. We felt it.

Another tragedy had been averted. But the scars remain. They will take a long time to heal. I thought of the Beth Israel rabbi's two daughters who waited all day to hear of their father's fate. One rabbi recently told me that some of her colleagues' children don't want them to be congregational rabbis anymore. "It's too dangerous." They don't want to have to worry every time their parent goes to the office. The parent's office is the synagogue.

My rabbi, Adam Starr, posted to Facebook that on Sunday morning, when he went into synagogue for daily prayer, it felt like "an act of courage, defiance and faith." Another friend told me that whenever she walks into a synagogue she makes a mental check of the nearest exit and figures out where the safest place to hide is. Under a pew? In a storage closet? Behind the ark, which holds the sacred Torah scrolls? She was shocked when I said I don't do that. Yet.

Jews have learned to be afraid beyond the synagogue. In May during the Gaza conflagration, people eating at a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles were beaten up by a mob. In London, a phalanx of cars moved through Jewish neighborhoods chanting "Kill Jews, rape their daughters." In Times Square in New York, a Jew wearing a kipa, or skullcap, was punched and pepper-sprayed.

When the attack is on a synagogue, during prayer, the pain is particularly intense. Each incident of vandalism ? antisemitic graffiti at a Tucson synagogue, desecration of synagogues in the Bronx in the spring ? or worse, arson at an Austin, Texas, synagogue this fall, is felt by Jews far beyond the confines of that specific community.

Jews have long thought of their synagogues as both a place to pray and a place to find community. As Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker noted after his heroic escape from the gunman in Colleyville, a synagogue is called a beit knesset, a house of gathering. That is why, when traveling abroad, even Jews who are not regular synagogue attendees often seek out the local synagogue.

For decades, when I got directions to synagogues in countries outside my own ? be it in Germany, Turkey, Poland, Italy or Colombia ? I would be advised that, to make my search easier, I didn't have to know the precise address. When I got to the street on which the building was situated, I was told, I should just look for the police officers with the submachine guns. That's where the synagogue would be. Also: Bring my passport. And be prepared for questions.

In some cities, synagogues ask that you call ahead to let them know you are coming. In Stockholm two years ago, the guard outside had been alerted to my coming. But he took no chances. So I found myself on a snowy street, reciting select prayers for him. Only after proving my bona fides did he let me in.

That was once an experience limited to when I traveled abroad. Now American Jews like myself experience it at home ? in our own synagogues, and in those we attend in American cities across this country. We look across the street at the big church and can't help but notice that there are no guards there.

A couple of summers ago, I was in the Berkshires on a Sunday morning driving through one of those innumerable picturesque small towns. Along the way, I passed a large church, right on the main street. It dated back to Revolutionary times. Something seemed off to me. The four large entry doors were wide open. Congregants stood happily greeting people as they entered. Then I realized what was discordant. No armed guard. No security check. No one told to "please use the side entrance, because it's more secure." Just an open invitation: Come in. Welcome.

I have not walked through the main entrance to my synagogue since October 2018, after the shootings at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue. For over three years now, that door has remained locked. When I asked why, I was told, "It's too wide open, it can't be made secure." I understood. You won't find wide-open doors at any synagogue in Europe or North America. It is only after you get past the guards that you find welcome, though welcome is still there for those who seek it.

It is not just the large synagogues that fear for security. I hear from students that they think twice about going to Hillel services, the campus Jewish chaplaincy. Some out of fear for physical safety. Some out of worry about the slings and barbs that might come from other students in the dorm. I met parents whose child had been accepted to a very selective college. He wears a kipa and was struggling with whether to replace it for the next four years with a baseball cap. Increasingly I hear: Jews are contemplating going underground.

We are shaken. We are not OK. But we will bounce back. We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA. Without it, we would have disappeared centuries ago. We refuse to go away. But we are exhausted.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker credited his survival to the active-shooter training and security courses that he and his congregants took in order to prepare for just such a moment. He knew to stay calm and knew the right moment to fling a chair at his captor and dash for the exit with the other captives. The Jewish community offers such training on a regular basis to an array of Jewish institutions, especially to our synagogues and our schools.

It is not radical to say that going to services, whether to converse with God or with the neighbors you see only once a week, should not be an act of courage. And yet this weekend we were once again reminded that it can be precisely that.

Among those morning blessings that are part of Blessings of the Dawn is one that thanks God for opening up the eyes of the blind. Jewish eyes did not need to be opened. But this week we wonder if the eyes of our non-Jewish friends and neighbors, particularly the ones who didn't call to see if we were OK, have been opened just a bit.

There is an additional blessing during these early prayers that thanks God for allowing us to stand tall and straight. We are standing tall and we are standing straight.

But we are checking for the exits.

(Deborah Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. She has been nominated by President Biden to be the State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism abroad. She is also a subscriber to this email list.)

 

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