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Alleged antisemitic hate crime creates “chilling effect” for El Paso Jewish community

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Revelations of an alleged antisemitic motive to a gruesome crime in El Paso have carried painful impacts for El Paso’s Jewish community, local Jewish leaders say.

Almost a year passed before an arrest was made in connection to the fatal shooting at a Central El Paso home next to Memorial Park. During that Nov. 14, 2020, attack, Georgette Kaufmann was killed by gunfire and her husband Daniel Kaufmann suffered multiple gunshot wounds but survived. At the time, little was known about why the couple had been targeted.

The news that the El Paso Police Department had finally arrested a suspect on Sept. 8 was accompanied by a shocking alleged motive: the suspected shooter had emailed a manifesto the day of the killing to a U.S. Army intelligence group that described his plans to kill the Kaufmann’s and linked his intentions to a bizarre antisemitic conspiracy theory involving magical abortion rituals being carried out in Memorial Park.

The manifesto referred to people who are pro-choice as being part of the “Jewish Satanist Party” and used Nazi-esque language to describe Jewish people.

“(Incidents like this have) a chilling effect, particularly on the people who live in that community — in this case El Paso,” said Mark Toubin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Rabbi Scott Rosenberg of Congregation B’nai Zion leads the Taschlich ceremony as part of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Congregation B’nai Zion has existed in El Paso for over 120 years. (Photo courtesy of Peter Svarzbein)

Although it is unknown whether the suspected shooter, 38-year-old Joseph Angel Alvarez, will be charged with a hate crime, the ADL commended that the alleged motivation was taken seriously by El Paso police.

“We also applaud their release of the affidavit that points to an alleged antisemitic motive for the murder and shooting. Clearly they realize such a violent attack targeting two Jewish individuals affects the entire Jewish community,” Toubin said in a statement the ADL released following the arrest.

Antisemitic incidents in the United States have been at historic high levels in recent years, according to data tracked by ADL. According to an interactive map the ADL maintains, there have been six antisemitic incidents in El Paso between 2020 and 2021.

“There is a clear and concerning rise of antisemitic attacks in the United States and across the entire world,” said city Rep. Peter Svarzbein, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. “And unfortunately it looks like El Paso has been victim to a hate crime once again.”

Svarzbein recalled past antisemitic incidents in El Paso, such as the 2018 vandalism of the Jewish section of Concordia cemetery, and multiple incidents in 2015 when antisemitic graffiti was painted outside of his Downtown art gallery.

“It obviously is a bit unnerving to see this kind of attack,” Svarzbein said of the Kaufmann shooting.

Despite recent antisemitic incidents, Rabbi Ben Zeidman of El Paso’s Temple Mount Sinai synagogue emphasized El Paso’s “remarkable history” of being welcoming to the Jewish community.

Many of El Paso’s early leaders were Jewish, including: Samuel Schutz, the city’s third mayor; Olga Kohlberg, who helped found the El Paso Public Library in 1895; and Samuel Freudenthal, who was the first president of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce.

Zeidman described recent events as both an anomaly and a call to action for El Pasoans to stand united against hate.

“It’s easy to feel like (the alleged Kaufmann shooter is) one person who’s crazy. It does not represent what El Paso really is or El Paso really means,” Zeidman said. “But we have to take these incidents seriously, or else we could find pretty quickly that that’s what El Paso has become.”

Svarzbein agreed.

“We have seen time and again what happens when hateful rhetoric, xenophobia and racism are left unchecked — those words ultimately become actions against groups of people,” he said.

Cover photo: The Chabad Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life’s new sanctuary in El Paso opened in August 2020. (Justin Hamel/Special to El Paso Matters)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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