Early Saturday morning, a vandal threw two Molotov cocktails at the synagogue in Nikolayev, Ukraine, a southern city that has witnessed some clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian locals in recent weeks. The firebombs scorched the main door and a window, but did not result in major damage. More importantly, no one was hurt.

“We came to synagogue on Shabbat morning, and it was quite scary,” said Rabbi Sholom Gotlieb, the chief rabbi of Nikolayev and the city’s Chabad representative since 1996. “We saw the front door and window of the synagogue were blackened.”

Synagogue surveillance footage showed a young man pacing in front of the synagogue shortly after 2 a.m. He then bent down and ignited a Molotov cocktail, lobbing it at the doors. Fifteen seconds later, he threw a second one at the window.

“He tried to light the synagogue on fire, but thank G‑d, there are gates on the windows, so it did not go inside, but the window did get burnt, obviously,” added Gotlieb.

The resulting fire was put out by a stranger who happened to be driving by the synagogue and noticed the blaze, said Gotlieb. The man pulled a fire extinguisher out of his car, dousing the flames.

This latest firebombing incident comes two months after the firebombing of the Chabad synagogue in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, some 215 miles to the east.

Chabad Rabbi Sholom Gotlieb, chief rabbi of Nikolayev, points to the damage.
Chabad Rabbi Sholom Gotlieb, chief rabbi of Nikolayev, points to the damage.

Local police were notified, and security has been stepped up in and around the synagogue, but the rabbi said it remains to be seen what other extra precautions the Jewish community of Nikolayev will have to take to ensure their safety.

Nikolayev is famous for being the birthplace of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—who was born there in 1902 but grew up in Yekatrinoslav (today, Dnepropetrovsk). Prior to Gotlieb’s arrival in the city, the last official rabbi of Nikolayev was Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yanovsky, the Rebbe’s maternal grandfather.