SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Friday morning, June 18, began like any other day for Rabbi Mendel Cohen. The Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to this city since 1994, Rabbi Cohen awoke at 6:00 AM prepared to open his Chabad House to fellow Jews.

Only one thing was different.

On this day many members of the neighboring synagogue, Knesset Israel, came to pray the morning services. Their synagogue was one of three that had been set afire the night before.

"Later we offered the congregation another building on our property to use for as long as needed, but someone in the community — someone who is not-Jewish — also offered them a house next door to the synagogue, and they've been using it since. We gave them a prayer stand to use for as long as necessary."

At first, some media reported that the fire was at the Chabad House. Only a few days earlier the local paper had done a full-page feature on Chabad of Sacramento.

"We got hundreds of calls from all over," Rabbi Cohen says. "People wanted to send us money. I declined, of course, explaining that we had been spared, and directed them instead to where there was a need. People have been sending money to the other synagogues.

"An amazing goodness has come out of this," said Mrs. Dinie Cohen, referring both to the new structures that will arise from the ashes of the ones burned down, as well as to the way the incident brought the community together in condemnation of what he called "these acts of hatred."

One such expression surprised even the ever-optimistic Rabbi Cohen.

"On that Friday night we called our regular Shabbat services a `Backfire Shabbat,'" said Rabbi Cohen. "Sometimes when firefighters are putting out a fire they set another one to help contain the first. Our celebration was built upon the same idea. By starting our own spiritual fire, we were combating the other tragic ones. During Friday night services, many of us went out onto our new half acre of property and started dancing."

A few days later Rabbi Cohen received a letter from a neighbor who had seen the dancing. "This was a neighbor who had opposed us," said Rabbi Cohen, recalling his early efforts to establish the Chabad House in his neighborhood.

"We are so sorry that some bigots think they can try to destroy synagogues," the neighbor wrote. "We know they have hate in their hearts and not love."

"It did our hearts good to watch you and members dance in a circle holding hands at the edge of your field," wrote the neighbor, saying she called her husband to the window to "witness this."

"I shed a tear or two for happiness. We are so proud to have you across the street from us. We enjoy seeing everyone walk down our street on Saturday mornings and at other times. You have our total support and solidarity from our house to yours," the woman concluded.

In the days following the arsons Rabbi Cohen was asked to appear on several news and talk programs to discuss the fires. "I recounted what the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory] said after Jewish life had been threatened by the PLO. He said it is important that a Jew strengthen himself by strengthening his relationship with G‑d — with Torah learning, increased prayer, and extra charity.

"When something like this occurs we know G‑d wants us to strengthen our relationship to him. This will only make us stronger," said Rabbi Cohen.

Rabbi Cohen also pointed out that we should be thankful that no one was hurt in the arson attacks.

Rabbi Cohen credits local police and the FBI with their swift efforts to investigate the fires. Two brothers have recently been arraigned in the hate crime murders of two men in the area and are considered suspects in the arsons as well. Literature similar to some found at the scene of the fires was found in their home.

Witnesses reported seeing one of the brothers at an event held at the Chabad House in the weeks before the arsons. However, Rabbi Cohen and local authorities speculate that the Chabad center may have been spared because it is located next door to one of the city's large fire stations.

When asked about the community's fears today Rabbi Cohen said there seems to be no "sense of fear" in the community. "The police and FBI have made this a top priority case. I think people across the board see this as an intolerable act by people who are full of hate and it is reassuring for the Jewish community to see this.

"Now, everyone is busy rebuilding."