Shattered Yet United: Austin Jewish Community Finds Solidarity Amidst Unthinkable Atrocities in Israel
Austin clergy recite Mourner’s Kaddish at the Community Solidarity Gathering for Israel at Congregation Agudas Achim on October 9. Credit: David Finkel Photography
By Wendy Goodman
Since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, the Austin Jewish community has come together in different ways to stand united with Israel and support the Israeli people, as well as each other.
Just two days after the attack, on October 9, Shalom Austin, in partnership with the Israeli-American Council – Austin, brought Central Texans together for a Community Solidarity Gathering at Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas. More than 2,000 were in attendance in person and online, filling the congregation’s sanctuary and two additional overflow rooms.
State and Local Leaders Champion Unity
On this night, a pivotal event unfolded drawing strength from the featured speakers, including local elected officials Texas Governor Greg Abbott, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Alison Alter, who took center stage to champion unity.
The presence of the representatives and other supporters underscored the significance of community solidarity, as they passionately addressed the audience. They emphasized their shared commitment to the state of Israel and its people to overcome the atrocities, terrorism and antisemitism together.
“As many of you know, last Shabbat during the holiday of Simchat Torah, Israelis found themselves under an unprecedented and barbaric attack from the Gaza Strip. From the land, air and sea, hundreds of terrorists infiltrated into Israeli towns and communities. They opened fire onto hundreds of civilians at a music festival. They went house to house, murdering in cold blood, men, women and children, the elderly and the disabled. They killed entire families in moments and shared it on their own social media accounts. All the while, thousands of rockets rained down all over Israel,” said Shalom Austin CEO Rabbi Daniel A. Septimus who emceed the Gathering.
He continued, “This is war being declared on Israel. This is Israel’s 9/11. Let there be no confusion. This is not about politics. This is the murder of Jews simply because they are Jews. This cannot be allowed.”
Other speakers at the Gathering included Congregation Agudas Achim Senior Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe, Interfaith Action of Central Texas representative Ajit Giani, ShinShinim participant Oren Shay, members of youth and teen leadership who led the crowd in singing Am Yisrael Chai, a message from Consul General Livia Link- Raviv, Israeli-American Council Texas Regional Director Shelly Shwartz, and Shalom Austin Board Chair Seth Halpern.
Rabbi Blumofe welcomed the audience to the sanctuary that night. “We welcome you, as our hearts are heavy in this gathering. We are devastated. Many of us in this space, a space that is meant to hold our deepest feelings, our joys and our greatest aspirations of what can be possible in this world, we are grieving. We pray that this sanctuary receives our sorrow this evening.”
Governor Abbott then addressed the audience with a message for Texans. “Texas joins the world in grieving for Israel, and hearts are weeping throughout Israel but also all across Texas because of the horrific attack on Israel, which must be called what it is: an act of war to which Israel has the right of self-defense, for which there is no expiration date.”
Quoting Israeli President Isaac Herzog, U.S. Rep. Doggett said, “One cannot talk about peace while condoning or legitimizing terror, implicitly or explicitly. True peace cannot be anchored in violence.”
He continued with, “While it’s important to hear all of the voices concerning the many troubling events in the Middle East, when the subject is Hamas and its terrorism, it is like the Holocaust. There is no other side; there are no alternative facts. It must be eradicated.”
Mayor Watson offered comfort to the crowd, “Let us, in this time of grieving, of sadness, vulnerability, anxiety, let us bring light to our community. Let us reinforce our humanity. Let us love each other.”
“What happened in Israel is horrible and is part of a frightening and growing trend of antisemitism around the world. A trend we have experienced in very real ways in our own community,” said Council Member Alison Alter.
Austin’s Interfaith Community Shows Powerful Display of Solidarity
Not only members of the Jewish community showed up for the Community Solidarity Gathering on October 9. Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) representative Ajit Giani, in a powerful display of solidarity, shared this statement on behalf of the interfaith community: “To our friends in the Jewish community. On behalf of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, we are mortified at the indiscriminate acts of violence that have taken place in Israel and express our deepest sympathy for these recent heart wrenching events. We stand with you, our Jewish friends and leaders, during these horrific times. We stand in unity and prayer for strength, for the families who have lost loved ones. We stand in unity and prayer for healing for the people who have been injured. We stand in unity and prayer for the people kidnapped. That they may be returned to their families.”
The Impact of Tragedy Is Felt in Austin
While Oren Shay was participating in Shalom Austin’s ShinShinim program (a year-of-service program with The Jewish Agency for Israel), his grandfather was brutally murdered by Hamas in his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and other family members were kidnapped. Shay shared his story at the Gathering.
“Two days ago, Rami, my grandfather, was murdered by terrorists that invaded the kibbutz. Grandpa, you had a meaningful life full of happiness, family and pride. Saba, I imagine now you finally hear me without using your hearing aids to tell me, ‘Oren please speak slowly.’ I know my words can’t bring you back. But at least your heroic act and my memory of you will stay forever,” said Shay as audience members wept.
Shay grew up in Kibbutz Nir Oz in the south of Israel near the border of the Gaza Strip. On October 7 when Hamas terrorists invaded Kibbutz Nir Oz, his grandfather Rami Katzir (z”l) was murdered and his grandmother Hana Katzir was kidnapped along with his uncle Elad Katzir.
Shay traveled back to Israel from Austin following the attack. He later told The Jewish Outlook about his experience returning to Israel. “I returned to Israel for the funeral to unite with family. I thought to myself, ‘the war must be only in a specific zone. It can’t disable an entire country.'”
Shay said, “While I was thinking about this when I came back from a huge demonstration in Tel Aviv for the release of the hostages, an alarm started shouting loudly. Children crying together with their parents trying to protect them and to pray they will return home safely. This is the routine in Israel for more than a month.”
Closing with Inspiration
At the Gathering, following blessings for the soldiers of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and for the State of Israel, and the Mourner’s Kaddish (Jewish prayer of mourning for the deceased), Rabbi Septimus gave inspiring concluding remarks, “As you can see this evening, the response of the Greater Austin Jewish community and greater community in this room is strong. We gather here today as one Greater Austin Jewish community.”
He continued, “We will not lose focus on supporting Israel and what she needs in these coming days, these weeks and months. Our hearts will indeed be in the East, fully connected to our brothers and sisters in Israel and supportive of our Israeli community here in Greater Austin, and we will remain steadfast in our support of Israel.”
Community Solidarity for Israel: Local Jewish Institution Partners :ADL Austin, AIPAC, American Friends of Magen David Adom, Austin Chapter of Hadassah, Austin Jewish Academy, Austin Jewish Film Festival, BBYO, B’nai B’rith Austin, Camp Young Judaea–Texas, Chabad of Austin, Chabad of Downtown and Young Jewish Professionals of Austin, Congregation Havurah Shalom, Chabad of Round Rock, Chabad of South Austin, Congregation Agudas Achim, Congregation Beth El, Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Kol Halev, Congregation Shalom Rav, Congregation Shir Ami, Congregation Tiferet Israel, Hebrew Free Loan of Austin, Hillel at Texas A&M, Israeli-American Council – Austin (IAC), JNF-USA, NCJW, Olami Texas, Shalom Austin, Tamim Academy of Austin, Temple Beth Shalom, Texas Hillel, URJ Greene Family Camp, UT Chabad Student Center
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