Austin Community Responds to Recent Acts of Antisemitism
Interfaith Action Central Texas, along with ADL Austin, Shalom Austin, local congregations, elected officials, faith leaders, local law enforcement and representatives from local schools gather on the Dell Jewish Community Campus Nov. 1 to issue a statement in support of the Jewish community in response to recent antisemitic incidents. Credit: Dave Hawks.
The month of October brought about a series of hateful and antisemitic events in Austin. It also brought about communal responses, law enforcement help, and events that enabled the community to reflect, heal, and look forward. “What has happened in October in Austin in terms of antisemitism is unprecedented, and not in a good way,” explains Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Renee Lafair.
On October 22, Anderson High School students arrived on campus to see graffiti targeting the Jewish, Black and LGBTQ+ communities. The following day, October 23, a group of antisemitic neo-Nazis arrived in Austin. They hung an antisemitic banner from the Far West bridge, confronting onlookers with vile statements and images. ADL counted over 15 separate stops for them in Texas, including three in Austin over the period of a week. The group operates by provoking outrage and hatred in an effort to garner attention.
Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Kennedy addresses the crowd at the statement reading in support of the Jewish community Nov. 1 on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. Credit: Dave Hawks.
The response to their visit included an immediate and joint notice to the community from ADL, Shalom Austin, and eight other Jewish institutions about what was happening. “The fact that the community mobilized and responded so quickly is a true testament to the culture of partnership among Jewish institutions,” explains Rabbi Daniel A. Septimus. This notification process was repeated two days later when the antisemitic group returned to Austin. They visited the city three times, including stops at 6th Street and APD headquarters.
A few days later, on the evening of October 31, there was a fire set to Congregation Beth Israel. The Austin Fire Department and Austin Police Department arrived on scene in addition to Shalom Austin Security Director Andy Dooher and Lafair. After the Fire Department put out the fire, they assessed that the synagogue sustained approximately $25,000 worth of damages to its main entrance. Current estimates, once damage was fully assessed, have risen to over $150,000. While the investigation is ongoing, an arrest was made on November 10, and the suspect faces federal charges. In addition, there has been a series of antisemitic and racist stickers being placed at local parks and flyers distributed on cars.
Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Rebecca Levy gives remarks at the statement reading in support of the Jewish community Nov. 1 on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. Credit: Dave Hawks.
Left to right: ADL Austin Regional Director Renee Lafair, Shalom Austin CEO Rabbi Daniel A. Septimus, Congregation Agudas Achim Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Interfaith Action Central Texas Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers, New West Communications Partner and Congregation Agudas Achim President Gary Susswein. Credit: Dave Hawks
“In my thirty years as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, I never thought I would be comforting parents and students in the wake of a violent, antisemitic act. The community’s support and generosity have been overwhelming, and the diligence and seriousness of the law enforcement response has been a source of strength for us,” said Rabbi Steven Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel.
During the last week of October, faith and local leaders responded to the antisemitism. Interfaith Action of Central Texas, under the leadership of Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers, and, with the help of Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Congregation Agudas Achim, issued a statement in support of the Jewish community that has been signed by over 1,500 faith and community leaders, along with a social media campaign, No Hate in the Lone Star State, condemning hateful acts against faith communities. The group gathered to rebuke antisemitism and hate at a press conference on the Dell Jewish Community Campus on November 1.
“Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) stands united with the Jewish Community. We are better when we support each other. It’s important for all our diverse faiths to join together in support of our Jewish family,” said Flowers.
Dignitaries at the press conference included elected officials, faith leaders, local law enforcement and representatives from local schools. Many offered help, information, safety and support in the days leading up to and following the press conference.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, iACT Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers, Congregation Agudas Achim Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Renee Lafair for ADL and on behalf of Shalom Austin, and Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Rebecca Levy gave remarks of solidarity, strength and resilience.
Blumofe asked the Jewish community to respond to solidarity with more allyship. “As the community shows up for us in these days, we are to show up for community, over and over – committed to fashioning relationships that will stand up strong in the constant gusts of anxiety and antagonism,” he said.
In another form of healing, a grassroots group ATXKind formed and held a rally at the Texas State Capitol on November 14. The rally featured speakers ranging from local elected officials to faith leaders.
Mayor Steve Adler gives remarks at the statement reading in support of the Jewish community Nov. 1 on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. Credit: Dave Hawks
“Part of what we wanted to do was to create a space for all of our community members impacted by hate to stand together,” said Sharyn Vane, co-founder of ATXKind, the grassroots group that planned the November 14 Rally for Kindness with the support of ADL Austin and Shalom Austin.
The rally drew more than 500 people to the Capitol to listen to speakers from a wide range of backgrounds.
“That simple action of being together in solidarity is both soothing and inspiring,” Vane said. “Only when we are able to bear witness can we move from anger and sadness into positive action.
While the Jewish community continues to find healing amidst the recent events, faith leaders urge community members to remain vigilant at a time when antisemitism appears to be on the rise.
“The effort to fight antisemitism consists of more than reacting to the latest incidents. The battle requires a long-term effort to educate, advocate and to remain vigilant against hate,” said Rabbi Alan Freedman of Temple Beth Shalom.
Despite the challenges of fighting hate, Lafair remains hopeful. “While this past month has been incredibly challenging, the outpouring of love, concern, acknowledgement, and unity has been a balm to my heart,” she said. I am filled with such gratitude that the Jewish community has true friends and allies.” ■
Statement of Support
We are people of diverse faiths, cultures, and backgrounds from all facets of the Austin and Central Texas community. We express grief, sadness, and anger at the dehumanizing eruptions of hate our community has experienced recently. We believe in the sovereign right that all are born equal and all are born good. We believe in religious freedom, and the right for people to pray and worship in peace. We condemn all hate and acts of violence upon any of our faith communities. Hateful acts of intimidation to incite violence is unacceptable and we will not be silent. We stand united with our Jewish Community as they are targeted and victimized by acts of antisemitism. We pledge to continue to work together, as diverse and committed leaders, to achieve this vision of a peace-filled and safe community where everyone is valued. ■
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