SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Rabbi Matt Cutler from Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady called the actions of a Texas rabbi and his congregation “nothing shy of heroic,” and commended their use of training to escape from a hostage situation on Saturday.
“It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were very….we were terrified,” Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker from Congregation Beth Israel synagogue told CBS Mornings. Cytron-Walker and the other hostages all made it out of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville alive after a standoff that lasted all day.
Cutler commended the way the group kept the gunman engaged until they could escape what the FBI called a “terrorism-related matter” that targeted the Jewish community.
“It is the worst nightmare of any clergyperson,” Cutler explained, “having someone in the pews decide that this is going to be the time to take hostages and make a political statement.”
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security wrote a letter to faith based communities addressing the incident in Colleyville, Texas, and said it appears to be an isolated incident as of now.
However, the organizations warned that the nation is in a period of heightened threat.
“The threat is exacerbated by a divisive sociopolitical environment and ongoing global pandemic, which continue to drive plots by DVEs (domestic violent extremists),” the letter reads.
Rabbi Cutler has been approached by members of the congregation about the hostage incident in Colleyville.
“You always get people who want to talk about this. You always have people who have an inherent fear. My job is to be that calm presence, to say that we’re going to be open for Shabbat worship,” Cutler said, adding that he assures the clergy that the usual safety precautions will be in place.
He does fear the possibility of copycats when an act of terrorism takes place, but points to security measures he’s worked on with the local FBI, police departments, and Jewish Federation to be trained for the worst case scenario, and to make the synagogue a welcoming, yet tightly secure place for gathering.
“We have an attentive, well-trained sense of what’s going to happen, and people at the door who know what they’re doing to be able to size things up,” Cutler explained.
On Friday, Congregation Gates of Heaven will have its Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration, and Rabbi Cutler has extended the invitation to other congregations to show solidarity in a special prayer that mentions Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville. Cutler said congregations should reach out to Gates of Heaven to express interest in participating.