In the late 1990s, a small group of Jewish people who had relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from across the country came together to create a new community for themselves. It began at a Yom Kippur breakfast, extended into Shabbat services and potluck dinners, and, before long, became a synagogue. Its founders called it Congregation Beth Israel.
Over the years, the congregation became an extended Jewish family in Colleyville, a small town of about 25,000 people. Today, it has about 200 close-knit members.
Before Saturday, when a livestream of a Shabbat service captured a hostage situation unfolding, the congregation was known for community building activities at a nearby community center, a Hanukkah Hoe Down and a community Seder.
The lead rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was known for building alliances with other faith-based organizations, said Giovanni Capriglione, a state representative who has been in office for nine years. A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rabbi Cytron-Walker was believed to be among four people taken hostage.
“The fact that it happened here is shocking,” Mr. Capriglione said on Saturday. “He has brought Christian groups and various Muslims groups together. He is not someone who is railing against one faith or another. He’s the exact opposite.”
The congregation began small, with about 25 members in the summer of 1999. The first religious services were held at a rented church facility. A school with 75 students opened shortly after, according to the synagogue’s website.
The synagogue quickly established itself as a refuge for the local Jewish community by buying a Torah dating back to the Holocaust from Eastern Europe and receiving donations of prayer books. By 2001, its congregation had grown to about 60 families, according to the synagogue’s website.
After years of planning its design and final look, a 160-seat sanctuary opened in late January 2004. Two years later, the synagogue welcomed Rabbi Cytron-Walker, who “continues to serve our community today,” the website reads.
“They’re a kind, loving congregation who are very supportive of one another and of the community,” said Beverly Powell, a state senator who knows the region well. “We have formed a very caring relationship with them. And so we’re keeping them in our prayers today.”
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.