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Lansing native freed from Texas synagogue: 'We are resilient, and we will recover'

Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Associated Press

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, a Lansing native who was among the four hostages freed Saturday from a Dallas-area synagogue, said there was "no question" the experience was traumatic, and thanked the community and world for the prayers and love. 

"We are resilient and we will recover," he said in a statement released Sunday afternoon.

Cytron-Walker said it was multiple security courses he and his congregation participated in from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League and others that prepared him and other hostages to know when to flee.

He encouraged other Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools and others to also participate in active-shooter courses.

“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” he said in the statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself." 

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker

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In a post Sunday morning on what appears to be Cytron-Walker’s Facebook page, the rabbi thanked law enforcement and first-responders, and security training “that helped save us.”

“I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful we made it out. I am grateful to be alive,” he wrote.

Cytron-Walker has led Congregation Beth-Israel in Colleyville, Texas, since 2006, when he became the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. He has worked to bring a sense of spirituality, compassion and learning to the community, according to his biography, and he loves welcoming everyone, including LGBTQ people, into the congregation.

Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and that Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday’s events as “surreal.”

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said as the hostage situation was ongoing. “No matter how it turns out, it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be.”

Cytron-Walker graduated from the University of Michigan in 1998.

As a college student, he spent 48 hours on the streets as someone who was homeless and danced for over 24 hours as a part of a Dance Marathon, according to the synagogue's website. He has also worked at Focus: HOPE, a civil and human rights organization in Detroit, and was assistant director of the Amherst Survival Center in North Amherst, Mass.

He attended Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at its Jerusalem and Cincinnati campuses and was ordained in 2006.

As a student, he served congregations in Michigan, Florida and Ohio. In Colleyville, he has worked with interfaith families, the LGBTQ community and local school districts.

His synagogue bio said he “remains completely in love with Adena Cytron-Walker.” The couple have two daughters.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, was among the friends anxiously waiting for updates on the hostage situation through the day. The synagogue is a bit outside his district, but he’s been friends with the rabbi and his wife for years.

”This is a great family. Super nice. I remember when they first came to Fort Worth. These are good people,” Veasey said.

President Joe Biden told reporters Sunday that he had called Cytron-Walker but they had "missed one another." Biden said the hostage-taker allegedly got the weapons on the street, but that he did not have all the details yet.

"I don't think there is sufficient information to know about why he targeted that synagogue," the president said, adding that authorities at this point "don't have enough facts."

Adena Cytron-Walker is vice president of programs at the Multicultural Alliance, a Fort Worth organization that “coincidentally enough deals with building bridges amongst different faiths and races,” as Veasey put it.

Veasey was on the group’s board when the rabbi took up his pulpit. Their kids were 2 or 3 at the time. ”That was how we got our kids connected. We both were like … ‘Why don’t we get them together to play sometimes?’ And so we would meet at a McDonald’s in the midcities and get the kids together to play,” Veasey said.

Dallas Morning News Washington bureau chief Todd J. Gillman and Detroit News staff writer Hayley Harding contributed.