Photo Credit: Austin Fire Info / Twitter
Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue was torched on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021 in Austin, Texas

Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas was torched Sunday night, damaging the synagogue’s entrance and front area. Arson investigators responded to the fire.

The Austin Fire Department said an accelerant was used to increase the fire at the synagogue, according to KVUE-ABC News. Arson investigators said broken glass also indicated that an item may have been thrown at the building.


Damage to the building was estimated at $25,000 and included the synagogue’s beautiful wooden doors. No injuries were reported.

“An arsonist started a fire at my synagogue last night. Antisemitism is on the rise even here in Austin,” wrote actor and writer Brently Heilbron in a tweet. “We must be unified against hatred anywhere.”

Neo-Nazis Make Hitler Salute, Hang Antisemitic Banner
The incident followed a week in which an antisemitic banner were hung up daily by a neo-Nazi group, saying “Vax the Jews.”

The banner was hung from an overpass by what is believed to have been the neo-Nazi group “Goyim Defense League” in a Jewish area, near Shalom Austin — the local Jewish Community — Center and several synagogues.

Several protesters were photographed making the Nazi salute while standing above the banner.

Police who responded to the scene came under “a barrage of hate speech and personal insults being hurled at them,” Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said in a statement quoted by Austonia.

“Officers who responded to the scene calmly and professionally carried out their duty to keep drivers on MoPac, bystanders and protesters safe while ensuring that the incident did not escalate and no laws were being broken,” Chacon said.

“Let’s be clear. Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department. Views shared by demonstrators during a protest action over the weekend were abhorrent and do not reflect our values,” he said at a joint news conference with the city’s mayor.

“Goyim Defense League” is known for conducting antisemitic protests, harassing Jewish organizations and spreading antisemitic propaganda on social media, Austonia wrote.

The city’s Mayor Steve Adler said he was “heartbroken” to see antisemitic hatred in Austin, “a welcoming and respectful place.” He advised anyone spotting “hatred of any kind” to report it to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Antisemitism, Hate at Nearby High School
Students at the city’s Anderson High School, about a mile and a half from the JCC, arrived on campus Friday a week ago to discover antisemitic and other hateful slurs and symbols painted on some of the senior student parking spaces at the school, according to Fox 7 Austin.

The vandalism included a swastika painted on a parking spot and another, larger one spray painted on the school’s tennis shed. One Jewish student told Fox News that it made her feel “unsafe to go to school.”

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said in a statement following the vandalism that it was “a reminder that the work of making Austin ISD a safe, inclusive place is never completed, and the community’s response is proof that the ugly graffiti does not represent who we are,” adding that there was “no place for hate” at the high school or anywhere else in the school district.

Elizalde advised any student who was felt targeted or unsafe from the incident to turn to their campus counselor.

It’s not yet clear if the fire at Congregation Beth Israel had any connection to the recent spate of antisemitic incidents, but the synagogue’s security cameras captured footage of the arsonist, which can help lead to his arrest and possible clarity on the earlier incidents.


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.