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As Austin sees a rash of antisemitic violence, Jewish leaders call for unity

Simone Talma Flowers, executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, speaks during a press conference in support of the Jewish community on Monday at B’nai Abraham Synagogue.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Simone Talma Flowers, executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, speaks during a press conference in support of the Jewish community on Monday at B’nai Abraham Synagogue.

Faith leaders and elected officials gathered Monday to express solidarity with Austin’s Jewish community amid a week and a half of antisemitic incidents across the city.

The gathering came less than a day after a fire was set at Congregation Beth Israel. The Austin Fire Department says the Sunday night fire was intentional and that it’s under investigation.

Kelly Levy, an assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, asked elected officials to denounce the wave of antisemitism and hate speech.

"We call on our public officials and candidates at all levels to call out religious hatred of any kind, including distancing themselves from supporters who fuel this hatred. These incidents will not be tolerated in our city," she said. "The Jewish community stands with every marginalized community, with our interfaith siblings, with all of humanity. We are asking for you to continue standing with us now."

The event outside the B'nai Abraham Synagogue on the Dell Jewish Community Center campus was hosted by Interfaith Action of Central Texas. The collective of faith leaders says as many as 500 people signed a pledge in solidarity with Austin Jews.

Investigators say the fire at Beth Israel started Sunday night just before 9 p.m., and that an accelerant was used to start the fire. AFD Capt. Brandon Jennings, who's leading the investigation, said Beth Israel's concrete edifice saved the building from sustaining more damage.

All told, the fire caused an estimated $25,000 worth of damage, and investigators are reviewing video footage of the arson and following up on tips.

The fire occurred a little more than a week after an out-of-state, self-avowed neo-Nazi group held hateful demonstrations over MoPac, less than half a mile from the sprawling Dell Jewish Community Center in Northwest Austin.

Austin police were criticized for their response to an incident on Oct. 23 when an officer fist-bumped a demonstrator on a livestreamed demonstration. Days later, the group returned to the bridge at Far West Boulevard and again draped hateful banners over MoPac.

Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish, said the rash of antisemitic incidents wasn't "surprising," but he urged Austinites to call out hate speech, rather than ignore it, or worse, amplify it.

"When we see that hate at the fringe of society, it is so incredibly important that all the rest of us to call it out for what it is," Adler said, "that all the rest of us say, 'That is not us. That does not represent who we are in this community.'"

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