Beth Israel Investigation, Colleyville, USA - 16 Jan 2022.
Mini-Lesson
Current Event

Responding to the Synagogue Attack in Colleyville, Texas: For Jewish Educational Settings

This Teaching Idea is designed to help guide an initial class discussion on the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas.

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At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History

Grade

6–12
  • Antisemitism

Overview

 

On Saturday, January 15, 2022, there was an 11-hour standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, in which the rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, and three congregants were taken hostage by Malik Faisal Akram, a UK citizen. The ordeal ended after the rabbi threw a chair at their assailant, allowing the group to escape through a nearby exit. As new information about this story continues to emerge, the New York Times article ‘Grateful to Be Alive’: What We Know About the Synagogue Hostage Rescue provides an updated summary.

This act of terror is part of the rising climate of antisemitism across the globe. The Washington Post notes that due to the spike in antisemitism in recent years, Jewish houses of worship have become “forbidding gauntlets of protective measures: armed guards, searches, identity checks, questioning.” 1 The members of Congregation Beth Israel received training from police, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and other Jewish groups on how to respond to threats and acts of violence. Rabbi Charles Cytron-Walker credited this training with saving his and the other hostages’ lives.

This Teaching Idea is designed to help guide an initial class discussion on the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The activities below support students to process their feelings, explore the long history of antisemitism, and learn ways in which they can stand up to hatred and bigotry.

  • 1Marc Fisher, Drew Harwell and Mary Beth Gahan, “‘Some people just don’t like us:’ In a Texas synagogue, 11 hours of terror,” Washington Post, January 16, 2022.

Preparing to Teach

For guidance on how to guide an initial class discussion on the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Jewish educational settings, see Responding to the Synagogue Attack in Colleyville, Texas: For Jewish Educational Settings.

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Activities

Activities

Self-reflection is important preparation for facilitating emotionally challenging conversations. As educators, we have to make time to process our own feelings and become aware of the way our own identities and experiences shape our perspectives. Read the “Start with Yourself” section on page 2 of our Fostering Civil Discourse guide. Then reflect on the following questions:

  • How have you been affected by the events of the past week? What emotions does the news of the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas, raise for you? What questions are you grappling with? How might your personal identity and experiences impact your response?
  • As you enter the conversation with your students, how will you take into account your and your students’ cultural and religious identities and what your students may or may not understand about antisemitism in America? How will you prepare to respond to the variety of responses and needs students might have as a result of their different cultural and religious identities?

Consider the ways in which your own students may have been impacted by the recent news. What support might your students need and what resources in your school, including counselors and social workers, could help provide this support?

Before discussing the news from Texas, it is important to revisit with students any class contract you have created together to ensure that the classroom is a safe and brave space for difficult conversations. If you have not created a class contract, plan to begin with a brief contracting activity before discussing the news.

Share with students a summary of what happened at Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, Texas, from a trusted news source. This Washington Post article provides a detailed account of the events. Either read the article together as a class or give students time to read it privately. 1

Allow time for students to name what stands out to them from this news story and then to process and reflect, perhaps writing in their journals and then sharing some thoughts with a partner. You might use the following writing prompts:

  • The synagogue attack in Colleyville, Texas, is disturbing and painful to learn about. It prompts us to ask many questions, some of which may not have an answer. What questions does this event raise for you? What feelings does it provoke?
  • How do you see this event affecting people in your home, in your school, and in your community? Who in your community, including you yourself, might be feeling particularly vulnerable right now?

After students have had some time to write privately in their journals, you might ask them to share some of their thoughts using the Think, Pair, Share strategy. Or, if you do not think students are ready for sharing their thoughts verbally, you can ask them to add a comment about one or both questions to a graffiti board. Students can then volunteer to share thoughts and observations after reading through the variety of responses.

  • 1The Washington Post provides a limited number of free articles per month, so you should ensure that your students have access to this article or find a different article from a trusted news source.

The students in your class may have a variety of needs in responding to the news from Colleyville. Jewish students are likely feeling vulnerable or traumatized, and they may need additional time for emotional processing and opportunities to feel support from classmates. Students who are not Jewish may be building an understanding of the serious and threatening impact of antisemitism. Even if they don’t have Jewish classmates, students might be looking for, or encouraged to find, positive ways to show support to those who have been targeted by antisemitism and to assert inclusive norms and values.  

Give students a few minutes to reflect on and discuss the following questions:

You can deepen students' thinking about how to respond meaningfully to the news from Colleyville by asking them to look again briefly at the Washington Post article. As students re-read the article, ask them to name those who stepped forward to offer support and solidarity even as the hostage situation was happening. Write students’ examples on the board.  

Then give the class a few more minutes to reflect on and discuss the following questions:

  • What can we do if we ourselves are feeling vulnerable as a result of the events in Colleyville?
  • How can we stand with and support others who are feeling vulnerable because of this news?
  • What can we learn from these examples about who shares in the responsibility to stand up against antisemitism and support those who are targeted?
  • What is at stake if members of religious minority groups in the United States do not feel safe to worship as they wish? Why is it important for us to respond to threats against houses of worship?
  • What are some meaningful actions we can take, even if only in our own home, neighborhood, or school?

Facing History offers a variety of resources to help students deepen their understanding of the history and impact of antisemitism, as well as how we might respond to acts of hatred and bigotry that threaten our democracy.  

Learn About the History and Present Reality of Antisemitism

The lesson The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism from our unit Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior focuses on the question, “What is antisemitism, and how has it impacted Jews in the past and today?”

For further exploration of this topic, refer to our online resources Old Hatred, New Paradigms: Combating Antisemitism in the Twenty-First Century and Antisemitism and Religious Intolerance.

Learn About Examples of Upstanding Against Antisemitism and Bigotry

These resources help guide lessons about how each of us can help to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world and build a more inclusive democracy. The readings below have particular resonance right now. Used singly or together, they can help students consider the values, tools, and actions that protect human rights, establish a sense of safety and dignity, and strengthen communities.

  • Not in Our Town: Residents of Billings, Montana, banded together to stand up to racist and antisemitic violence in their town: Intolerance, hatred, and violence test the strength of a community. How the members of a community respond is one measure of its citizens' commitment to democracy. This reading includes a companion video and lesson plan.
  • Talking About Religion: Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, talks about his failure to respond to antisemitism in high school and how this experience of being a bystander informed his commitment to pluralism.
  • Walking with the Wind: Congressman and activist John Lewis tells a story from his childhood to explore how we can work together to create a better world:
    “. . . America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together, and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.”

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Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.

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