Just months before its scheduled opening, the Molly Blank Jewish Community Center was vandalized. Two weeks ago, swastikas were painted on windows and carved into the walls.
The community center — which is still under construction — is set to be the new home for Chabad of Flagstaff and is just a few miles away from Northern Arizona University. In addition to the anti-Semitic graffiti, several paint cans were smashed and dumped onto the floors of the facility. Some power tools were also reportedly stolen from the premises.
“Thankfully, the damage is not as bad as it could have been,” said Co-Director of Chabad of Flagstaff Rabbi Dovie Shapiro. “No glass was broken and the stone (foundation) wasn’t ruined. However, it’s very disturbing.”
Bjorn Krondorfer, director of NAU’s Martin-Springer Institute, which is dedicated to Holocaust studies, offered Shapiro the institute’s full support in a Facebook post.
“Though we are not privy to any information about culprits and motives — whether, for example, this was a juvenile act of mindless provocation or a deliberate act of hate by an extremist individual or group — the painting of swastikas on a synagogue leaves a clear message: You are not welcome here,” Krondorfer wrote. “With the echoes of the Holocaust, it is a sinister sign of intolerance. At a minimum, it is callous to the harm inflicted.”
The Flagstaff Police Department is investigating the incident as a hate crime and speculated that it took place sometime between Friday, March 22 and Monday, March 25, when construction workers were not on the premises. Police inspected the facilities for fingerprints and collected any potential biological evidence. Police began the investigation on the same Monday the destruction was discovered.
Soon after police began their investigation, ADL Arizona announced that it is offering a reward of $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for the alleged vandalism.
“Crimes like these don’t just damage and harm a construction site; they fragment entire communities and create fear,” said Carlos Galindo-Elvira, regional director of Arizona ADL. “The use of a hate symbol is horrifying. We hope this reward facilitates the quick apprehension of the person or persons responsible, and we thank the Flagstaff Police Department for investigating.”
Galindo-Elvira extended ADL Arizona’s support to Shapiro and the entire Flagstaff Jewish community. “Targeting a premises being built for community and religious use is simply beyond the pale.”
A few weeks prior to the vandalism, anti-Semitic flyers were found at Flagstaff’s Coconino County Courthouse. The flyers featured a black swastika superimposed over the phrase “the race war starts with you.” The flyer shows an illustration of three individuals holding guns and wearing what appear to be masks shaped like skulls.
Shapiro had heard of the flyers, but he is unsure if whoever posted them is connected to the vandalizing of the community center.
Shapiro and his wife, Chaya, founded Chabad Flagstaff in 2006. The Molly Blank Jewish Community Center officially broke ground in 2017. Blank was a prominent Jewish figure from Georgia who frequently visited Flagstaff and Paradise Valley.
Shapiro said the Molly Blank Jewish Community Center was scheduled for a summer opening, but he is now unsure if they are still on track.
“It’s extremely shocking and disturbing because we’ve been in Flagstaff for 13 years and we’ve never experienced anti-Semitism,” Shapiro said. “Flagstaff is an amazing community and I don’t think this reflects the warm and welcoming community that it is. This whole thing really reinforces even more of the important work that we’re doing.”
He said that Chabad’s message can turn a situation of hate and tragedy into something positive.
“Each and every one of us has the power to bring more light into the world,” Shapiro said. “And if we do that in our own small way, we tip the scale towards good in the world.” JN