Jeffrey Cohen, vice president for the board of trustees at Congregation Beth Israel, was one of four people taken hostage in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday. He wrote about the terrifying eleven hours he and the others experienced that day in two posts on Facebook Monday. If you have the time to read the whole thing, it is well worth it to do so.
Yesterday I wrote about the complete mess that the FBI made in its communications about the terror attack made by an Islamic extremist at the synagogue on Saturday. There were still lots of questions that remain about the attack today. Jeffrey Cohen shed some new light on the inside details. What began with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker welcoming in a man who claimed to be homeless and giving him a cup of tea as the men inside chatted with him before the Shabbat service began, ended up with the terrorist pulling out what Cohen describes as an automatic weapon and holding the men hostages for eleven hours. The man went from appearing as “calm and happy” to an angry, ranting terrorist.
Cohen wants to make clear that this act of terrorism was nothing like what we see in movies. Movies are scripted and the actors know what each other are going to do. Fighting back like hostages do in movies isn’t the first response in reality because fighting back means getting close to the attacker. Cohen, like Rabbi Cytron-Walker, credits the training they received from Secure Community Network on active shooter events for being alive. The four men escaped, thanks to what they learned in that training. Cohen wants to make it clear that they were not released or freed. They escaped. To hear earlier reports, we were given the impression that the men were freed.
As far as those who suggest concealed carry in places of worship, especially synagogues given the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, Cohen says even if he had been carrying, he doesn’t think he would have had an opportunity to draw and fire on the terrorist before the terrorist killed one of them. “This isn’t fear or second guessing, it is my evaluation of the condition on the ground.”
When Cohen was introduced to the terrorist by the rabbi, the terrorist was on the phone, he said. One question is, who was the terrorist talking to on the phone as he drank his cup of tea and chatted with the rabbi? Cohen said the terrorist was calm and happy, his eyes weren’t darting around, his hands were open and calm. When he went to sit, he heard what sounded like “an automatic slide engaging a round.” Cohen had his phone next to him and dialed 911. He “put the phone screen side down on the chair and moved as commanded. But not exactly as commanded. Instead of going to the back of the room, I stayed in line with one of the exits.”
When the police officer came to the door in and our attacker became more agitated, I moved closer to the exit door. When he came back and instructed us to sit down, I sat on the row with clear access to that same exit. This door, by the way, is the one you can see us run out of on the WFAA video.
During the day, I remained calm — I know, those who know me won’t believe it — I never raised my voice or made a quick move. Everything was deliberate.
When he let us call our families, I called my wife, daughter, and son. I also posted here on Facebook. Many of you saw that post, I’m sure. To be perfectly honest, at that point, I figured we had few options and little chance of survival. With my feet, I slowly moved a few chairs in front of me. Anything to slow or divert a bullet or shrapnel.
Later in the day, I helped one of my fellows by moving him closer to the door. While rubbing his shoulders, I whispered about the exit door. Still later, when we received the pizza, I suggested to our third hostage that he bring it back to us. We were all within 20 feet of the exit door. This proved critical for our escape.
Next was to keep the gunman engaged. We talked with him. He lectured us. I asked him questions that MAY have been useful to the FBI. But as long as he was talking and somewhat calm, we bought the FBI time to position.
Then things began to devolve. At one point, our attacker instructed us to get on our knees. I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly. I think I slowly moved my head and mouthed NO. He stared at me, then moved back to sit down. It was this moment when Rabbi Charlie yelled run. Shane had one step on me. I grabbed him and pushed him through the door (we were so close, that the report said only 2 people came out — there were three of us).
Going out the door, I stumbled hitting the ground hard. I heard our attacker open the door. I was on the ground without my glasses, my plan became getting through the hedge line. In all honesty, I thought I was further under than I was. In fact, I was quite exposed. The lesson is that just because your head is covered doesn’t mean your body isn’t completely in the open. When I heard the door close and an officer yell, I got up and ran.
Cohen is not giving interviews at this point, he said, because an investigation is still underway.
Meanwhile Democrats point to a Senate hold on Biden’s nominee to be an envoy to monitor global antisemitism. Biden wants the position to be elevated to a cabinet position. The position was first established by Congress in 2004 to monitor global antisemitism. It was elevated to the rank of an ambassador in 2021, which requires Senate confirmation. Biden nominated Deborah E. Lipstadt as the State Department’s special envoy. There is a question now if the position should have been elevated to the rank of ambassador because it allows politics to creep into the process. In this case, Republican Senator Ron Johnson has a hold on her nomination. Johnson tweeted about the January 6 rioters and it seems Lipstadt accused him of “white supremacy/nationalism”. What would be expected from a Biden nominee, though? He has a record of choosing radical, far-left partisans for important positions.
This is white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple. GOP Senator Johnson slammed as 'white nationalist sympathizer' after race remarks https://t.co/9vaBQsqK7J
— Deborah E. Lipstadt (@deborahlipstadt) March 14, 2021
Lipstadt has an op-ed in today’s New York Times and she addresses the need for security training and its importance given the rise in anti-Semitism. She may have to apologize to Senator Johnson to get her nomination moving forward. Apparently that tweet isn’t the only action she’s taken that received criticism from Republicans.
Other Republican lawmakers have faulted her for appearing in an ad during the 2020 presidential race likening former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric to those of the Nazis in the 1930s, before the Holocaust.
If confirmed, Lipstadt would be the first antisemitism envoy to be confirmed by the Senate after the post was raised to the level of ambassador in 2020.