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Austin Rally Draws Hundreds to Support Jewish Community in Wake of Vandalism, Arson

avatar by Faygie Holt / JNS.org

The aftermath of a fire set at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 31. Photo: Austin Fire Department

JNS.org – Several hundred people gathered on the steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Sunday to show their support for the Jewish community and help spread kindness in the wake of a string of antisemitic incidents, including an arson fire outside a local synagogue.

Called the “Rally for Kindness,” it was organized by ATXKind, a grassroots group of Jewish women, and with the help of the local Jewish federation, Shalom Austin, and the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League.

“We wanted to create a space for the Central Texas community to stand together in solidarity and process what has taken place in recent weeks,” said Mariette Hummel, one of the founders of ATXKind, a grassroots group of six Jewish women from Austin. “The rally offered an opportunity for all to be together to unite and heal, and move from anger into action. We will continue our work to bring people together, and encourage kindness and inclusive action.”

Rabbi Steven Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel told rally-goers that repairs to his synagogue may reach upwards of $150,000 after an arsonist tried to set it ablaze on Oct. 31, and it remains unclear how much insurance will cover. Last week, police arrested an 18-year-old for the crime.

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“I do have faith we will come out of this a stronger, more committed, more loving congregation,” he said.

Noting that the Hebrew word chesed is translated as “loving kindness,” Folberg explained that “chesed is not an emotion, and chesed is not a sentiment. It’s the way you behave towards somebody you love.”

Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Congregation Agudas Achim said the program was “upbeat” and “positive,” and he drew a connection in his remarks to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, urging people to get to know others in the community.

“We assemble here on the steps of this august State Capitol eager to not just check a box saying we have rallied for kindness today but to commit to transforming our lives in service to each other. We have a great opportunity to get involved and sweeten our days. And as Hanukkah approaches, we have the opportunity to live each day of our precious lives as the gimmel on the Hanukkah dreidel—living all in on every spin,” he said.

“How willing are we to get involved? How strong can our community be if we each took a vested interest in and showed up for our neighbors in different communities across this city?” posed Blumofe. “This Hanukkah, let us not light our lights behind drawn shades; let us not play dreidel without new friends. Hanukkah, especially, is a time for us to publicize the holy bonds we have in helping our entire community prosper.”

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