Austin leaders, faith community address string of antisemitic incidents

Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a group of faith leaders, elected officials and law enforcement officers about the recent string of antisemitic crimes. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a group of faith leaders, elected officials and law enforcement officers about the recent string of antisemitic crimes. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a group of faith leaders, elected officials and law enforcement officers about the recent string of antisemitic crimes. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact Newspaper)

Law enforcement, faith leaders and city and state officials gathered Nov. 1 to address what are believed to be recent antisemitic acts across Austin, including a fire at Congregation Beth Israel on Oct. 31.

On Nov. 2, Travis County commissioners signed a resolution denouncing antisemitism and hateful speech.

The Interfaith Action of Central Texas organized the Nov. 1 event at the Dell Jewish Community Center. Attendees included Mayor Steve Adler, state Reps. James Talarico and Celia Israel, Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Austin Fire Department representatives.

“There are people who do hateful and horrible, wrongful things that live at the fringes of society. ... That hate exists at the fringes of society is not the danger,” Adler said. “The danger is that that hate spreads. ... And that's why when we see that hate, ... it is so incredibly important that all the rest of us call it out for what it is, that all the rest of us say that it does not represent who we are in this community.”

On Oct. 31, the fire department responded to a fire at Congregation Beth Israel, located off Shoal Creek Boulevard in Central Austin. AFD Capt. Brandon Jennings said because of the location of the fire, it is being investigated as arson. AFD investigators also found a possible liquid acceleration, he said.


On Oct. 23, a banner containing an antisemitic message was hung over a bridge on MoPac, according to Shalom Austin and APD.

Austin police are also investigating antisemitic words and symbols that were found spray painted at Anderson High School on Oct. 23.

Austin police Chief Joseph Chacon told Community Impact Newspaper that each incident is being investigated separately, but police have not ruled out a possible connection.

“I am very concerned with the fact that we have seen so many [potential hate crimes] and so recently. So that is something we are investigating is if there is a link,” Chacon said.

So far in 2021, APD has identified 16 incidents as hate crimes as of Sept. 10, according to the latest APD data. In 2020, the department reported 17 hate crimes, and in 2019, the department identified 12.

Chacon said given the relatively small number of hate crimes, compared to the more than 1 million 911 calls the department receives, even a small increase in the numbers can feel like a large percentage shift.

“Just one is too many,” Chacon said. “We have strong relationships ... with our Jewish faith community, and those relationships are key in being able to determine if we have a group that is responsible for doing this and getting them identified and holding them accountable.”

Elizalde told Community Impact Newspaper that the district is working to provide students with support, such as increased access to counselors, and will be reviewing its safety measures in light of the recent incidents.

“What do our students and families need to feel safe? That is what we are focusing on. We are going to keep listening,” Elizalde said.

Kelly Levy, an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, thanked the fire department as well as other law enforcement, AISD and the officials in attendance for their support.

“We will be okay. We know this rise in antisemitism and acts of violence in our community will not deter our spirit that we will continue to flourish and thrive,” she said during the conference. “The support we received allows us to come together united and able to push forward.”

The Interfaith Action of Central Texas prepared a statement denouncing the recent events and relaying community support for the Jewish community. It has over 500 signatures, including those of Adler, all 10 Austin City Council members and Travis County Judge Andy Brown.


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