Texas rabbi who faced down hostage-taker to appeal to Congress for security funds


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who faced down a hostage crisis at his Texas synagogue, will join a Jewish federations movement appeal to Congress to double security funding for nonprofits to $360 million.

Cytron-Walker will join Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, in an appearance Tuesday before the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

Cytron-Walker has said that a camera system paid for through the federal nonprofit security grant program allowed federal agents to monitor the 11 hour Jan. 15 crisis in Colleyville, which ended when Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the hostage-taker and fled with his congregants, and agents rushed the building, killing the assailant.

Congress doubled funding for the security grant program in late 2020, to $180 million, but faith groups are asking for it to be doubled again. An array of faith groups last month urged President Joe Biden to double the funding, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, has joined the effort.

Jewish groups, including JFNA, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, helped craft the legislation that created the fund in the mid-2000 after a number of attacks on Jewish institutions. Jewish groups were for years the main beneficiaries of the grants, which pay for fortifying susceptible institutions and adding security systems, but in recent years other faith groups have asked for funds in light of attacks on mosques, Sikh temples and Black churches.

Separately, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire are touting their “Pray Safe” Act, which would create a clearinghouse to streamline access to security training and nonprofit security grant funding.

In a piece for Fox News online, they cited Cytron-Walker’s experience as a spur to move the legislation forward.

“No one should fear for their life when they enter a house of worship to reflect and pray, nor should houses of worship have to be locked down to keep their congregants safe,” Portman and Hassan said. “Yet as the horrific events at Congregation Beth Israel showed us, this is the new normal for far too many faith communities throughout the country.”

Cytron-Walker’s appearance Tuesday will come the same day that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Deborah Lipstadt, Biden’s nominee for antisemitism envoy. Her hearing, which had been held up by Republicans who disliked some of her tweets, was scheduled after the Colleyville attack increased pressure on lawmakers.

Lipstadt’s two invited guests, the Forward has reported, include a cofounder of Cytron Walker’s synagogue, Anna Salton Eisen, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

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