(RNS) — Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who drew international acclaim for his handling of a hostage-takeover at his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue last month, has accepted an offer to lead a Reform synagogue in North Carolina.
Cytron-Walker will become rabbi of Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Winston-Salem, a city with a population of about 250,000 in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, best known for its former tobacco industry.
“Congregation Beth Israel and the Colleyville community will always be remembered with love,” Cytron-Walker was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the synagogue. “And I am honored, grateful, and excited to join the Temple Emanuel family as their next rabbi.”
Cytron-Walker will replace Rabbi Mark Cohn, who has served the congregation since 2001 and is retiring. The synagogue’s board voted unanimously to offer him the position on Thurday (Feb. 24).
The Winston-Salem congregation with about 280 member families is more than double the size of the Colleyville congregation. Both are part of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Cytron-Walker resigned as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville last fall — before the hostage-taking — when the congregation’s board voted not to renew his contract.
He had been job searching and interviewed at Temple Emanuel last year. Earlier this month, he and his family visited North Carolina.
“When we first interviewed Rabbi Charlie last year, we were immediately struck by his warmth and humor, his intellect and his ability to speak about Jewish values and education,” William Reingold, the temple’s incoming president, said in a statement. “He exceeded our expectations in every way. The events of January 15, while tragic, only solidified our belief that he was the right choice to be our next rabbi.”
On the morning of Jan. 15, Cytron-Walker welcomed a 44-year-old British national into the sanctuary where Shabbat services were about to be livestreamed and offered him a cup of tea. Midway through the service, the man, identified as Malik Faisal Akram, pulled out a gun and took Cytron-Walker and three others hostage.
After a nearly 11-hour standoff, Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the hostage-taker, distracting him and allowing for an escape.
In the days after the event, the rabbi testified before a U.S. House committee on the need for increased security funding for synagogues and other places of worship. He appeared widely on television and this week wrote an editorial in The New York Times in which he said he would still welcome strangers into the synagogue.
Cytron-Walker has been the rabbi at Beth Israel since graduating from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in 2006. During that time he developed strong, deep-rooted friendships with the region’s interfaith community of Christians and Muslims, many of whom gathered near the synagogue during the hostage-taking to support him.
A native of Lansing, Michigan, he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1998. He is married to Adena Cytron-Walker and has two daughters.
Temple Emanuel’s board began searching for a new rabbi in the summer of 2021. The search committee interviewed Rabbi Cytron-Walker several times by Zoom in 2021. Temple Emanuel is the only Jewish synagogue in Winston-Salem.
Cytron-Walker is expected to begin his new job in July.