Second antisemitic brick attack in Pensacola at Beth El

Temple Beth El in Pensacola (SJL file)

A week after a brick with antisemitic messages scrawled on it was hurled through a kitchen window at Chabad of Pensacola, two bricks with similar messages were discovered in a bathroom at Pensacola’s Temple Beth El today.

Two window panes were broken where the bricks had apparently been thrown. It is not known when the attack took place, as that bathroom is a lesser-used space in the building.

The congregation issued a statement, saying they are working with law enforcement to ensure safety.

“Temple Beth El appreciates the support and concern of the greater Pensacola community,” the statement said. “We are committed to working with our neighbors of all faiths and backgrounds to build an ever more tolerant and welcoming community.”

This afternoon, the congregation had planned a tour of “The Bias Inside Us,” an exhibit at the Pensacola Mess Hall that details the science and history of bias, followed by a Shabbat service and covered dish dinner.

Beth El Rabbi Joel Fleekop said the exhibit was “intended to help us recognize some unseen biases, to strive to be ever more just and fair people. That is what we must continue to do.”

At the Shabbat evening service, Fleekop used the theme of Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort that follows the commemoration of the tragedies of Tisha B’Av. “We are in need of comfort, but we are also able to find that comfort, to find comfort by being here together in community, by knowing that we are here for one another, that we stand determined.”

He also said that comfort can be found in the concern of neighbors. As he was entering the sanctuary before services, he got a text of solidarity from Father Joseph Callipare. “The words of Father Joe are not alone, there are others from across our faith communities and other backgrounds that have reached out.”

Fleekop also said there is comfort in working toward the future. As his phone was blowing up with texts and messages during the afternoon, he set it aside for a b’nai mitzvah lesson for Isaac and Lillian Haims, who will have their celebration next weekend. “The urgency to respond to an act of hate had to be set aside to focus on the future, to focus on young people who are preparing to affirm their commitment to Judaism.”

He said that the physical damage to the building will be repaired quickly, and he hopes those responsible will be brought to justice. “What matters most is that this not deter us in our commitment to our Jewish community and our Jewish values,” and in being a welcoming congregation.

Beth El, which is Reform, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Florida, and is about a mile from Chabad. The building had an extensive renovation in 2016.

In less than two hours, one article on Yahoo News about the incident had over 140 comments, a large proportion of them antisemitic.

The brick thrown into Chabad happened on July 17. Rabbi Mendel Danow launched an Acts of Routine Kindness campaign in response, and accelerated the timetable for Chabad’s expansion into a new facility. Danow also said that the graffiti-laden brick will be a cornerstone for their new building.

The campaign to fund the new building includes the opportunity to “buy a brick” for $54.

About 100 community members attended a “Light Up Pensacola” Shabbat of Light at Chabad on July 21.

Danow, who was on local television earlier in the day to promote the ARK campaign, said that “we are appalled” by the attack on Beth El.

A couple days before the Chabad attack, swastikas and white power messages were painted on East Hill Animal Hospital, about halfway between Chabad and Beth El. Similar graffiti was found at the old Amtrak station.

Shortly after the Beth El incident, WEAR-TV reported finding antisemitic graffiti at the end of a dead-end street by the I-110 off ramp near Gregory Street, just a few blocks from Beth El and a couple blocks from the Mess Hall. The red spray-painted graffiti included a swastika and 14/88, code for a 14-word white supremacist slogan and for “Heil Hitler,” as both words start with the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Police are investigating all five incidents.

(Updated 7:10 p.m. with Rabbi Fleekop’s Shabbat service remarks and Rabbi Danow’s reaction. Updated 9:30 p.m. with fifth incident.)