AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Sunday, hundreds gathered at the Texas Capitol grounds in protest against a rising number of antisemitic displays and actions in Austin — just two weeks after an arsonist set a fire at Congregation Beth Israel Halloween night.
The fire resulted in upwards of $150,000-worth of damage, as well as the emotional and spiritual toll inflicted on congregation members, Rabbi Steven Folberg said. Taking to the podium Sunday afternoon, he condemned the violent act, but said his faith is resolute in his congregation coming out of this stronger and more united.
“You act lovingly but you act with strength,” he said.
Community and state leaders convened at the Texas Capitol for the Rally for Kindness, a grassroots-led initiative aimed at challenging antisemitic acts and bigotry within the greater Austin community. ATXKind, a group formed by Jewish women in Austin, organized the event with support from Shalom Austin and the Austin region’s Anti-Defamation League.
Rick Rosenberg, board chair of Shalom Austin, said that this event exists as a reminder that the recent antisemitic actions of some members of the region do not speak for the sentiments of all who live here and call Austin home.
“The antisemitic acts committed against greater Austin are unacceptable and they do not represent what Austin has been and what it will become,” he said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said that, as a Jewish man, the crowd’s presence makes both him and community members around him feel safer and more secured by the knowledge Austin will not tolerate hateful acts. The drive behind antisemitism mirrors that of racism and homophobia, fueled by inaction of bystanders.
Austin City Council Member Alison Alter echoed his sentiment, adding that the complicit nature of bystanders allows hate to permeate within communities.
“Silence, I remind you, is a choice,” she said.
In attendance Sunday were not only elected officials, but member of the Austin community working to make a change from the ground level. Ford McCracken, a senior at Anderson High School, was one of the students targeted by racist, homophobic and antisemitic graffiti painted onto campus parking spots.
When faced with hateful acts and intimidation, he said the solution isn’t to fight hate with hate. In this instance, he organized Painting Positivity, an opportunity for community members to shed light and color onto the campus — one brushstroke at a time.
“We were able to take an act of hate and spin it into something positive,” he said. “We didn’t fight fire with fire…we did it with paint.”
Pflugerville City Council Member Rudy Metayer said the Jewish community has been an integral supporter and champion for civil rights movements for other marginalized communities for decades. Now, he said it is imperative for all of Central Texas to have the tough conversations on how to mitigate the spread of antisemitism firsthand.
He recounted explaining the CBI synagogue fire to his eight-year-old daughter and biases that exist toward the Jewish community. He said it reminded him of conversations he had with his own parents decades prior, on the civil rights movement and violence against Black Americans.
These conversations, he said, are emotional and difficult to navigate. But the safety and prosperity of future generations depend on the actions made in the present.
“We’ve seen what happens, and if we don’t do anything about that now, what’s going to be left for our children?” he asked, later adding: “I’m not telling you it’s easy, but I am telling you it’s right.”