Rabbi Mendel Danow of the Pensacola Chabad Jewish Center says that the person who threw a swastika-laden brick through a window at the center on Monday evening is going to regret his actions. Not because of what would happen to the “crazy dude” if he is caught, but because of how Chabad is going to turn his action into an engine of Jewish engagement and overall positivity throughout Pensacola.
“It will spark so much positivity,” Danow said, “we’re going to make the guy who threw the brick regret throwing it.”
The incident happened on July 17 at 8:10 p.m. There was the sound of broken glass, and a brick covered in swastikas and antisemitic messages was on the kitchen floor, surrounded by glass shards.
Two Chabad students are currently in Pensacola assisting at the center, and one of them had been standing in that spot moments before, according to COLlive.
Video footage shows an individual exiting a vehicle around the corner from Chabad, going to the side of the building and throwing the brick at the window, then running back to the car.
The incident is being investigated by law enforcement.
The center’s response includes “Light Up Pensacola,” a Shabbat of light, starting at 6:30 p.m. on July 21. The event is intended “to increase both the physical and spiritual light in the community,” and the community is invited to attend, or to light candles on their own. A unity Shabbat dinner will be held after a brief service.
B’nai Israel, the city’s Conservative congregation, cancelled its service and will be at Chabad. Beth El, the Reform congregation, already had its installation scheduled for this Shabbat.
Today, Chabad is also launching an ARK campaign — Acts of Routine Kindness. Special charity boxes are being ordered for distribution throughout Pensacola. “It’s not only for Jews,” Danow explained, “it’s something which is city-wide, for everyone to participate in… to add acts of goodness and kindness on a daily basis.”
The idea is that individuals, families, schools or businesses will have the boxes as an aid to develop a habit of giving, and when the box fills up, the contents can be given to someone in need or a charitable organization — and then the box can be refilled.
Danow said that for now, the boxes can be ordered at $2 each, and can be either picked up at Chabad or shipped.
“We can generate change in ourselves and in our community with the simple act of consistent giving. Keep it handy, use it daily, and together we’ll achieve Acts of Routine Kindness,” Danow said.
The next phase of the response to the brick will be an accelerated timetable for the new Chabad center in Pensacola.
The Danows arrived in Pensacola to establish the center in September 2018, and within a year, there was a drive to purchase the building that now houses Chabad. Because of the level of programming, in December 2022, there was a campaign to purchase a nearby building.
Because of the amount of work needed on the new building, “we weren’t sure when we would be there,” Danow said, but after the attack, they decided to “take the deep dive and make it happen” and work on getting into the new, larger building in the next few months.
Originally, they planned to build a mikvah on the new property and then work on the building; now they will do both simultaneously.
The new building is “essentially triple the size of the (current) Chabad House, and G-d willing, triple the amount of programming,” Danow said, also saying, “that brick will be the cornerstone.”
But, he reminded, “we want to focus on the inspirational part. We don’t want to put the focus on the hate and the negativity.”
To help fund the new building, Chabad of Pensacola launched a Protect the Light campaign, urging people to buy bricks in the new building, for $54 each.
The center has received “an outpouring of positive reinforcement” since the attack, Danow said. “People are shocked and pained by it, people are stopping me on the street and saying, rabbi we are with you.”
He added, “this act of hate does not define Pensacola in any way.”
Kate Lollar, president of B’nai Israel, echoed that in her message to her congregation. “This is the first time as far as I can remember that something like this has happened in Pensacola,” she said. She reminded her congregants of security measures they have in place, and for everyone to be aware of their surroundings.
Danow said there have been some random swastika scrawlings in that part of town recently, including a couple days earlier at an animal hospital a few blocks away.
But “we’re just going to do our thing,” Danow said. “We’re not going to focus on the negative because that is not going to help.
“You have to reinforce the positive, which shows we still have a lot of work to do.”
Updated July 25 with information about the fundraising campaign.