‘It’s just so alarming’: UT Jewish community share thoughts on recent antisemitic incidents

Kevin Vu, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 12 flipbook.

Content warning: antisemitism

When Rachel Schlesinger and her roommates saw that a racist group hung an antisemitic banner from a highway overpass in Austin last month, they cried. 

“It’s just so alarming to be like, ‘Whoa, someone hates me (so) much that they’d be willing to hang a banner from an overpass from a highway for the world to see,’” said Schlesinger, a member of the student board of directors for Texas Hillel, a Jewish student center for UT and other Austin-area schools. 

Last month, Central Texas saw an uptick in antisemitic incidents, said Renee Lafair, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Austin. The incidents included a group hanging a banner with antisemitic remarks on Loop 1 of the MoPac Expressway several times. Police have not yet identified any suspects in the antisemitic banner incident, Lafair said.

“It’s always unsettling when someone targets you specifically because of an immutable characteristic that you have,” Lafair said.

Following the incidents, Austin City Council approved a resolution last week condemning antisemitism and asked city manager Spencer Cronk to find ways to improve the city’s response to hate speech and violent action against the Jewish community. Council members asked Cronk to educate the community on how hate starts, how to respond to it and social media’s role in promoting hate, according to the resolution. The council members asked Cronk to report his findings and recommendations to them within 120 days.

Lafair said she feels grateful the city is taking steps to prevent antisemitic incidents.

Schlesinger, a Plan II and management information systems senior, said although it is great that the resolution brings awareness to the situation and makes her feel supported, she wants to know what concrete action the city can take to prevent these incidents.

“It’s also hard because, at the end of the day, it’s a piece of paper,” Schlesinger said. “I don’t really know how to get rid of hate in this world. I guess it’s important to stay optimistic.”

Maiya Edelson, Texas Hillel’s executive director, said the incidents were unsettling and serve as a reminder for Jewish students that there is still hate in the world. Texas Hillel has been the victim of different crimes several times in the past. Last year, a rock was thrown at the building, and in 2017 a window was broken in the night

“There’s a lot going on that really can negatively impact students,” Edelson said. Texas Hillel reached out to students to check up on their well-being following the incidents.

Schlesinger said she has been living in Austin all her life, and that it was shocking to see these events happen to places she has been to in the past.

“I know that there’s plenty of hate in this world in 2021, but every time something like this happens, it’s still so beyond you (as to) why someone would do something like that just because someone practices a certain religion,” Schlesinger said.