Austin synagogue reflects on 2021 fire on 2-year anniversary

The Austin synagogue, that was intentionally set on fire in 2021, held a commemoration on Wednesday. They reflected on the path of moving forward.

"Tonight is about honoring those members of our community, both from the fire department and members from CBI who stepped up at that moment to insure there was no greater damage to our building," says Congregation Beth Israel executive director Jake Cohen.

On October 31, 2021, Congregation Beth Israel erupted in flames lasting nearly 15 minutes. According to police, 20-year-old Franklin Barrett Sechriest intentionally set the fire outside the main sanctuary doors.

He was seen on video with a five gallon container and toilet paper walking toward the sanctuary.

"The damage that was done in our sanctuary will cost millions of dollars to repair, and it was a 60-year-old sanctuary to begin with," said Cohen.

Wednesday, religious leaders, city officials, and community members gathered to look toward the future and celebrate the resilience of overcoming the tragedy.

"This is no place for hate. Our city is no place for hate, our community, our country, there is no place for hate," said Cohen.

Cohen says their private security is on alert daily at the synagogue, especially with the war between Israel and Hamas.

"Antisemitism is at its highest level in years, and so we have to be constantly on alert as a Jewish community that has been targeted," said Cohen.

As they work toward reopening the synagogue, they want community members to feel comfortable returning. 

"Our responsibility is to make sure that every person that walks through these doors is safe. Whether they are a child in our early childhood center or they grandparent celebrating their kids B’nai Mitzvah. Everyone who walks through here is safe," said Cohen.