After Texas: Moving forward without fear

On January 15, what should have been a peaceful Shabbat morning, a 44-year-old man took four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

The world stood still for 11 hours while the hostage situation unfolded, ultimately resulting in the successful escape of the hostages. Police then killed the hostage-taker, whose motive was said to be the release of an al-Qaeda terrorist being held in prison. Reports say he believed Jews specifically controlled the world, a directly antisemitic ideal.

And while the world may have moved on, Jews across North America are still thinking “It could have been us,” recognizing that when incitement against Jews continues, violence follows.

In Ottawa, 2,632 kilometres from Colleyville, Federation’s head of security Andrea Blaustein calls the hostage-taking a reminder.

“We must be aware, alert and assertive in protecting our community,” said Blaustein. “Do not assume that a person is who they want us to see them as. We tend to welcome everyone — that’s our nature. But be cautious about inviting strangers in and sharing too much information.”

Blaustein points to an excellent relationship with Ottawa Police Service, which has been “extremely responsive” to Federation and the Soloway JCC campus.

“We have been proactive at every level in staying informed not just about this event, but about others worldwide,” said Blaustein. “We work with law enforcement here and across Canada, and work with Jewish agencies like CIJA to ensure we understand events like what happened in Texas, so we can take lessons learned to ensure we are implementing best practices.”

One of the ongoing lessons learned surrounding antisemitism, at least for Rabbi Menachem Blum from the Ottawa Torah Centre, is to avoid internalizing antisemitism.

“When a child is bullied on the playground, we don't think that the picked-on child should self-blame and change his or her personality or behaviour,” said Rabbi Blum. “The victim is not the cause of the bullying: the starting point is a problem within the bully. Hatred exists in the mind of the hater, not the hated.”

With that, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, held hostage in Colleyville, said he will continue to wear his yarmulke proudly, in a report by Lauren Markoe for

“People need to do what they’re good with,” said Rabbi Cytron-Walker. “I get a lot of positivity. That’s not necessarily the case everywhere in the country. And it really depends on who you are and what your comfort level is.”

Rabbi Eytan Kenter at Kehillat Beth Israel agrees.

“I am reminded that we cannot allow our fears to stand in the way of our essential work of feeding the hungry and supporting those most in need,” said Rabbi Kenter. “We need to work diligently to keep everyone safe, but in doing so, we must also remain vigilant in our work to assure that no one is left behind and all who are in need have our support. Opening the eyes of those who refuse to see anti-Jewish bigotry, holding our heads high with pride in our faith, and walking in God’s ways.”

For Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg at Temple Israel, the situation brings to mind the story of the ancient Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

“On one side, the Egyptians could be witnessed ready to re-capture the Israelites. On the other side, a body of water, and the Israelites could not swim. What to do? Nachshon led the way forward, reminding the Israelites that they need not feel alone. Together, they were unbeatable, resilient and strong,” said Rabbi Mikelberg.

“They marched towards promise, leaving behind fear and anxiety. We are bruised and saddened reflecting on the events of Colleyville, Texas. As we walk the path of healing, we stand as one, we build bridges with our neighbours, we pledge ourselves to use love and justice as our guide forward, it’s the only way.”

And so, as we continue to reflect on Colleyville and continue to be aware of our surroundings, the sentiment expressed by Rabbi Cytron-Walker to wear our Judaism proudly resonates.

“I continue to wear my yarmulke proudly. It’s really up to you,” said Rabbi Cytron-Walker. “And I would hope, and I would pray that we’re able to get past the sense of fear.”

Blaustein encourages the community to reach out they have questions, and also asks people to promptly report any antisemitic activities.

“A coordinated effort between the community, Federation, OPS and CIJA is the best way that we can take care of each other.”

Leslie Kaufman, Federation’s vice president of corporate services, said we need to be vigilant as a matter of practice, “not just when an event reminds us to be.” 

“With our partner CIJA, we’ve been teaching situational awareness to our community agencies and synagogues for the past few years, and repeating the refrain ‘if you see something, say something,’” said Kaufman. “ Being aware of our surroundings, noting things that just don’t seem to fit the environment, and speaking up are important steps we can all take to mitigate or prevent a hate incident.”

Blaustein uses a triple-A approach: be aware, alert and assertive:

  • Aware — of our surroundings and what they look like when everything is normal so that we can recognize changes that may signal a threat.
  • Alert — to inappropriate or questionable questions, actions and presence of vehicles or packages, etc.
  • Assertive — do not be afraid to question someone's motives, behaviour or activity.

Blaustein can be reached at