AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a sharp rise in the 2021 numbers, the Jewish community and allies fear antisemitic attacks and rhetoric in Texas and nationwide will be worse this year.
Such threats are all too real for Austin synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, which is still recovering from an arson attack on its temple a little over a year ago.
Steven Folberg, its senior Rabbi, said it will be years before their temple is fully recovered and usable again.
“I miss it,” he said. “The dust literally and figuratively of that violence is still settling.”
Folberg said his congregation has come together and supported one another in the year following the attack, but it’s still nervewracking hearing about and experiencing threats and harassment toward Jewish people.
He said it has been especially troubling hearing antisemitic rheotric coming from high profile public figures, like rapper Ye — formerly known as Kanye West.
“As long as people who want to do this to maintain their power can keep people divided against each other, then we’re all too busy to see what’s really kind of going on and what we need to work on,” Folberg said.
According to a report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Texas ranked among the top six states with the highest number of antisemitic incidents in 2021:
- New York — 416 incidents
- New Jersey — 370 incidents
- California — 367 incidents
- Florida — 190 incidents
- Michigan — 112 incidents
- Texas — 112 incidents
Jackie Nirenberg, the regional director for ADL in Austin, said it’s important to remember that many hateful threats, bullying or attacks go unreported, meaning the numbers could be even higher.
“We expect it to continue at the same rate [in 2022], hopefully not higher,” she said. “We’re seeing more incidents being reported at schools, incidents of bullying of Jewish children…that’s a pretty good indicator that we’ll see some rise in adult behavior as well, unfortunately.”
With the official start of Hanukkah, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden both are holding Menorah lighting ceremonies on Monday. Both are expected to address rising antisemitism across the nation.
Abbott condemned hateful rheotric toward the Jewish community Monday, touting ways he and lawmakers are helping Jewish Texans. He talked about a law that prohibits the state from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel, and $10M in grants given for the hardening of religious institutions, after a hostage situation at a Dallas-area synagogue. The state also created an Texas Holocaust Genocide and Antisemitism Advisory Committee.
“We collectively need to make sure that we grow and preserve and to perpetuate both a state and a country that is going to support them and their ideas and their ideology,” the governor said. “Antisemitism has no place in Texas and will not be tolerated in the Lone Star State.”
Nirenberg said it’s critical that elected officials and others stand as allies with the Jewish community and speak out when they hear antisemitic rhetoric and report harassments and other crimes.
“It’s happening in a time where information and misinformation, and disinformation all gets spread immediately and through so many platforms, so it’s really difficult to stop it once it starts to spread,” she said. “Call it out.”
Folberg encourages Texans to stop by a synagogue and become familiar with the community, saying it’s easier to find commonalities than differences. The differences, he points out, are also a good thing — and a central message of the celebration of Hanukkah.
“Part of Hanukkah has always been, to me, a statement about not only the right to be different, but the beauty of difference,” he said. “I’m grateful that you’re different because the world is better with difference. And of course, it’s the sort of human fear of difference that generates a lot of hostility.”