Religion

FBI, religious officials on high alert in Houston amid Israel-Hamas conflict, encourages congregations to ‘live lives normally’

The message to Jewish Houstonians is to be angry about what happened, while also maintaining compassion for innocent lives being lost on both sides of the war.

The Downtown Houston skyline with the view of the Harris County Courthouse from the Jury Plaza. September 6, 2019
Macie Kelly/Houston Public Media

The FBI says they're continuing to monitor threats both in the United States and overseas, as a result of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East.

In a statement, Houston's FBI chapter says they are taking "all potential threats seriously, and are working closely with law enforcement partners in order to determine the credibility of the threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions," and will take investigative action when necessary.

"Countering terrorism remains the FBI's number one priority, and we will not tolerate violence motivated by hate and extremism," says Christina Garza, Public Affairs Officer, FBI Houston. "We will continue to do everything in our power to protect the American people."

The office of the Consulate General of Israel is under additional protection. Thousands of Pro-Palestinian/Anti-Israel protesters took to the streets peacefully outside the Consulate General earlier this week, protesting Israel's response to the terrorist attack in Israel on October 7th. Synagogues and other places Jews typically gather are also being closely monitored by law enforcement.

"I won’t get into operational details, but there are people that are working on it, making sure you know, synagogues and community centers and schools are safe. And we were very appreciative of it that," says Livia Link Raviv, Consul General of Israel, Southwest United States.

Raviv says she's heard from local Israeli families who have thought twice about sending their kids to school this week. She says it's important for Houston's non-Jewish community to fully comprehend what the attack meant to her people.

"This is 911 times 10. And I think we can think of Israel before October 7th, and the one after. We won’t ever be the same. And I think it’s really important to remember this magnitude and trauma, we will carry with us for decades," Raviv says.

Congregations are on alert but are being told to live their lives normally. Rabbis are directing their community to be diligent, but most synagogues around Houston were already on high alert following the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue back in 2018. The message to Jewish Houstonians is to be angry about what happened, while also maintaining compassion for innocent lives being lost on both sides of the war.

"Nobody wants this kind of thing to happen,” says Rabbi Dan Gordon, Temple Beth Torah. “And those who celebrate it [violence] are sadly misinformed. We're just praying that we can all listen to each other. And at least in our world, make sure that we respect one another, and accept each other."

Gordon says the Jewish community has received lots of love from other sectors of religion since the attack. He mentioned a bouquet of flowers was left at Temple Beth Torah's doorstep along with a candle, containing an image of St. Michael, which in Catholicism, opposes the devil.

"And a beautiful note saying that not everybody is out for your destruction," Gordon says. "She identified herself as a Catholic neighbor who is praying for us. That was very gratifying to see our non-Jewish neighbors stepping up," Gordon says.

Gordon says he also received condolence calls from local Muslim leaders, disapproving of the attack. Houston's Council For Islamic Relations chapter is also condemning Hamas's actions while maintaining support for the values Gaza's leaders had while carrying it out.

"CAIR absolutely condemns all violence. We certainly condemn the attack, by contrast, on Israel, that happened on October 7. But we condemn all violence and the root of this violence is the occupation of Palestine," says William White, Director, CAIR Houston.

White says he knows many Houstonians who have both family and friends suffering through the pain of war right now in Gaza. He says he's joining Texas state representative Greg Casar and Veronica Escobar, in calling for a ceasefire, and although Houston's Muslim community is currently under a direct threat, CAIR has received dozens of threatening phone calls, in addition to threatening posts on social media.

"We want the killing of innocents to stop immediately. We want an end to the violence,” White said. “I have fielded more hateful calls in the past week and four days than I have in my entire three years here."

There is no sign of the war ending any time soon. Thousands of people have either died or are currently injured as a result. Humanitarian aid is making its way to the region, but community leaders are expecting a long road ahead.

"My advice is always to be vigilant and to be careful, and at the same time not to allow terrorism to interfere with our day-to-day routine," says Raviv.