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Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker paused as he gave opening remarks in a healing service, thanking the community for their support after the hostage event.
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Texas rabbi held at gunpoint has helped Christian school understand antisemitism

‘He knows … how violence can descend on a community so quickly.’

Rabbi Charlie, as friends and congregants call him, teaches with emotion when he tells students in Mark Baur’s Worldviews course at Fort Worth Christian School each spring that antisemitism has destroyed generations.

That’s what Baur remembered when he learned Saturday that a hostage situation was unfolding at Congregation Beth Israel in nearby Colleyville, Texas, where Charlie Cytron-Walker leads the Reform Jewish synagogue.

Only three congregants were present in person that morning when the rabbi welcomed a newcomer. 

Cytron-Walker later told The New York Times he assumed the man wanted a warm place on a cold day, so he made him a cup of tea. Not long after, he heard the click of a gun. Thousands watched what had begun as a livestream of Shabbat services while the man held the four at gunpoint for nearly 11 hours. One was released in the afternoon, and the others escaped that night, physically uninjured. The FBI hostage rescue team shot the gunman.

“Of all people, he knows with very present awareness how violence can descend on a community so quickly,” Baur, a member of the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, said of his friend.

“He always goes out of his way to thank students for coming because he truly believes overcoming interfaith ignorance can save lives,” the Bible teacher said. “He thanks students for taking the class and going on interfaith trips — because he views it as a path out of darkness and violence. Those are the kind of words that jumped back in my head when I heard about the crisis.”

Baur has taught at Fort Worth Christian, founded by members of Churches of Christ in 1958, for eight years. He patterned the Worldviews course he teaches for seniors after a similar class at his undergrad alma mater, Harding University in Searcy, Ark., taught by Monte Cox, dean of the College of Bible and Ministry.

Mark Baur, a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., teaches Bible at Fort Worth Christian School.

Mark Baur, a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., teaches Bible at Fort Worth Christian School.

Baur views the two Worldviews courses as capstones for his students. 

Katie Samsill, now a junior psychology major at Harding, remembers the rabbi and the class, which she said remains her favorite course in high school or college.

Katie Samsill

Katie Samsill

She recalled Baur teaching students about world religions in a way that “hopefully, when you interact with someone in the workplace or in college and find the person is not a Christian, it gives you a sympathetic view because media portrays a lot of religions’ negative aspects. The class and the field trip to the synagogue gave us a lot of positive light.”

The family of Ainsley Owen, a junior nursing major at Abilene Christian University in Texas, lives less than a mile from Congregation Beth Israel. She told her parents the Worldviews class was the class in high school that most prepared her to graduate and go on to bigger things.

The rabbi’s annual welcome to the Fort Worth Christian students is not his only investment in interfaith activities.

Anna Salton Eisen, one of the founders and the first president of Congregation Beth Israel, told The Christian Chronicle the rabbi has had “a very strong commitment to interfaith relationships.” He and his congregation were major organizers of Peace Together, an annual walk that includes mosques, synagogues and churches.

“We started it after Charlottesville,” Eisen said, referring to fatal clashes between white supremacist groups and counter-protesters in that Virginia city in 2017. “If neo-Nazis could walk for hate, we could walk for peace.”

The author and daughter of Holocaust survivors said the peace walk was just one of the things Cytron-Walker has been involved in, and “those relationships were evident during the hostage siege where area ministers, pastors and imams gathered and kept vigils and supported family and waited for the hostages to be freed.”

The spirit of welcome Rabbi Charlie shared with Fort Worth Christian students was evident in his remarks at a healing service conducted Monday, which coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Cytron-Walker quoted King as he concluded the service:  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

The service, held at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in neighboring Southlake to accommodate the hundreds who attended in person, was also viewed by more than 4,500 via Facebook live.

“If we live that value,” Cytron-Walker said, “and make it an integral part of our lives each and every day, we might have a lot more friends that we disagree with, that we don’t see eye to eye with, but we’ll have a lot fewer enemies.” 

Fort Worth Christian grad Owen had heard that message in Mark Baur’s Worldviews course: “Fort Worth Christian is a small school where everyone sitting in class is exactly like you, so hearing those other perspectives gave me a better understanding of people around me.”

CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle correspondent who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. In retirement, she is enjoying freelance writing and consulting, especially with churches. Contact her at [email protected].

Filed under: antisemitism Colleyville Congregation Beth Israel Fort Worth Christian School holocaust Holocaust survivors International National Partners Texas hostage situation Top Stories

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