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Sioux Falls faith leaders stand against antisemitism

Solidarity with Jewish Community Sioux Falls
Jen Dreiske, President of the Mt. Zion congregation, addresses a crowd during a demonstration against antisemitic material reported throughout Sioux Falls on Sunday, December 5, 2021.

Dozens gathered in downtown Sioux Falls to support the Jewish community after antisemitic signs and stickers were recently discovered in multiple locations. A swastika was reported outside a downtown bar, while other stickers displayed antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The interfaith show of support included followers of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, along with remarks from community leaders.

Jen Dreiske is president of the Mount Zion congregation, a Reform Jewish community in Sioux Falls. She says no one has taken responsibility for posting the stickers around town, but the messages cause fear in her community.

"The Holocaust wasn't too long ago," she said. "It is very much a part of who we are as Jews, because of our connection to family and community members that we lost."

Dreiske is also involved with the non-profit South Dakota Voices for Peace, which originally began in 2017 to oppose legislation that targeted the Islamic faith. Taneeza Islam is the Executive Director of South Dakota Voices for Peace and a candidate for Sioux Falls Mayor. She says the Jewish community stood alongside their Muslim neighbors during 2017 protests.

"It's really critical for us to come together as we all experience hate and bigotry in different ways," said Islam. "That's why at South Dakota Voices for Peace, we want to counter bigotry when we see it in words, not [wait] to get to the level of action."

Demonstrators gathered in the parking lot of the First Congregation Church in downtown Sioux Falls. Reverend Martell Spagnolo is the senior pastor.

"As an openly gay pastor—as the only openly gay pastor in South Dakota—I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of hate," he said. "And I'm also a believer that we are called to be in solidarity with other people who are on the receiving end of hate...I believe that God taught us to combat hate with love."

Several political leaders were not able to attend in person but submitted statements to be read at the demonstration. Those leaders include Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, Governor Kristi Noem, and all three members of South Dakota's congressional delegation. All condemned the recent displays of antisemitism and affirmed their support for the Jewish community.

High winds prevented a public menorah lighting in honor of the eighth night of Hanukkah, but Jen Dreiske explains the significance that this event coincided with the final night of the Jewish observance.

"It's the brightest of nights for the holiday," she said with a smile. "This is when the entire Hanukkiah is lit up. And so what a perfect night to stand against hate and bring light into the darkness."