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Arson Attack in Los Angeles Torches Chabad Emissaries’ Car

Arson Attack in Los Angeles Torches Chabad Emissaries’ Car

In response, Shabbat campaign shifts focus to constructive action: candle-lighting, good deeds, ‘Tefillin Wrap’

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Among the objects burned in the arson fire that destroyed the car of Rabbi Sholom Ber and Rochela Rodal were prayerbooks, tefillin and mezuzahs. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
Among the objects burned in the arson fire that destroyed the car of Rabbi Sholom Ber and Rochela Rodal were prayerbooks, tefillin and mezuzahs. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)

A Chabad rabbi in Los Angeles has launched a mitzvah campaign called “Fighting Fire With Fire” after his car was torched in an arson attack that took place outside his home while the family was asleep during the night.

No one was hurt in the June 24 attack at Chabad of Mt. Olympus in Los Angeles, but prayerbooks and other items that were in the car, including tefillin and mezuzahs, were destroyed. The fire is being investigated by the Los Angeles Fire Department’s arson division. As of Friday, there were no reports of any arrests.

“We invite all Jewish women and girls to light the Shabbat candles this evening. Please gather your family around, light the candles, bless your loved ones, and ask for security and health for us, and for the extended community,” said Rabbi Sholom Ber Rodal, co-director of Chabad of Mt. Olympus with his wife, Rochela. He also announced plans for a “Great Tefillin Wrap” on Sunday morning for men and boys over the age of 13.

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While concerned that the perpetrators are still out there, the rabbi is also confident that law enforcement is doing its utmost to find them. Still, he made it a point to note the extra security this week, and the police, he said, have been increasing patrols of the area, “so we feel pretty secure.”

It was in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when the Rodals heard sounds that roused them from their sleep.

The rabbi with students and parents at the local Hebrew school that he directs. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
The rabbi with students and parents at the local Hebrew school that he directs. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)

“We were awakened by the blaring of a car alarm and what sounded like gunfire, explosions and fireworks. It was 2 a.m. My wife and I ran out to see what was going on,” recounts the rabbi. “To our shock and disbelief, we saw our car engulfed in a blazing inferno of fire. There were explosions coming out of it every few seconds.

“We immediately woke up the children from their beds and we ran with them outside, far down the street, fearful that the fire would spread to the house.”

Police and fire officials responded immediately, and fire damage was confined solely to the car. Security cameras in the area provided a timeline as to what happened in the moments before the fire.

“At 1:52 am, a car pulled up to my car, a Hyundai Sonata, and over the next minute-and-a-half, two people can be clearly seen breaking into my car and setting it on fire with prepared materials of ignition and arson,” the rabbi stated. “It is very clear that it was a deliberated and targeted arson attack—and potentially more serious, pending the investigation.”

Turning Bad Into Good

With the investigation in the hands of the authorities, the Rodals turned their attention to other matters, specifically turning the bad into good with the launch of the “Fighting Fire With Fire” initiative for this Shabbat. They are also raising funds to replace the items that were destroyed in the fire.

“In Chassidic tradition, we are taught that everything that happens is for a purpose and for the lesson to be drawn to inspire us for the future. What is the lesson here?” posed Rodal. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—taught that when confronted by evil and violence, the most powerful way to combat it is to spread love, goodness and kindness.

Police examine security videos via a camera that had previously been installed near the Rodal home. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
Police examine security videos via a camera that had previously been installed near the Rodal home. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)

“Where there is fire, mayhem and destruction, we turn them into fire of passion and unity,” he continued. “While these malicious acts will always draw attention—and spread fear and mayhem—the truth is that unity, solidarity, care and empathy will always triumph.”

He noted that people have already been responding to the call for increased mitzvahs.

College students from the community who are currently in Israel for the Birthright program posted a photo on Facebook of their candle-lighting before Shabbat because of what had happened. Another individual donned tefillin and then sent the rabbi a picture of it.

“As a shaliach,” he says, having people do mitzvahs “is the most important thing. It’s what it’s all about. You ask people to do these things, but then in a crisis or situation like this, it comes directly from them, and it’s very beautiful.”

Rodal went on to say that “these cowardly actions will not intimidate us into hiding or fear or submission. We will not deviate from our mission to provide care for the spiritual and physical needs of our dear community. While we take the proper security measures, we know and trust that G‑d is guiding and watching over us, and that we are protected.”

A photo of the blaze taken soon after the Rodal family was awakened by the sound of explosions outside their home in Los Angeles. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
A photo of the blaze taken soon after the Rodal family was awakened by the sound of explosions outside their home in Los Angeles. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
The car was totally destroyed by the intentional fire. No arrests have yet been made. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)
The car was totally destroyed by the intentional fire. No arrests have yet been made. (Photo: Chabad of Mt. Olympus)


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