Photo Credit: Dave Wilson / Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder Co., Newark, DE
UD Chabad Center for Jewish Life, in flames - August 25, 2020

Police in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., do not suspect a hate crime but say that a suspect intentionally set fire to a van belonging to Chabad Rabbi Chaim Slavaticki on Shabbat morning.

Officers arrested 59-year-old Scott Hannaford, “a transient resident of Fort Lauderdale” whom police say “appears to suffer mental illness and has been trespassed from the property before,” NBC 6 South Florida reported.


This is not the first Chabad Jewish Center to be attacked by an arsonist.

Two years ago, Chabad Jewish Centers in Kentucky and Florida were both set on fire.

In April 2022, the Chabad House of Louisville, Kentucky was destroyed by fire on the eighth and final day of the Passover holiday. Rabbi Avrohom Litvin, regional director of Chabad of Kentucky, said firefighters had responded several hours earlier to a grease fire in a building adjoining the Chabad House. At around noon, the Chabad House itself went up in flames, with the entire structure, sanctuary and everything within, destroyed. The Torah scrolls, however, were rescued.

The following month, in May 2022, the Chabad Jewish Center in Tallahassee, Florida, was destroyed in a blaze late on a Saturday night after the end of the Sabbath. The Chabad Center, directed for 23 years by Chabad emissaries Rabbi Schneuer Z. and Chanie Oirechman in Tallahassee, Florida, was considered the hub for Chabad of Tallahassee, the Florida Panhandle and Florida State University (FSU). The Chabad Center sustained major damage, including the loss of all their Torah scrolls and hundreds of books. The kitchen and other facilities were also been destroyed.

In August 2020, it took some 45 firefighters nearly an hour to extinguish the flames that broke out just after 11 pm on a Tuesday night in the University of Delaware Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newark, Delaware. Firefighters were at the scene for three additional hours to put out the “hot spots” and completely extinguish the flames. The building was badly damaged.

In the case of Saturday’s fire at Las Olas Chabad Jewish Community Center, police are not investigating the blaze as a hate crime, NBC reported.

The suspect faces two counts of arson in connection with the fire, in addition to count of criminal mischief and one count of cocaine possession.

Hannaford was booked into the BSO Main Jail.

The rabbi, a Chabad emissary, said that security camera footage showed the man attempting — unsuccessfully — to light the building on fire hours before Shabbat morning services, prior to setting the van ablaze. The fire from the van spread to the building, Slavaticki said.

The fire destroyed the kitchen, and smoke damage and soot has permeated the rest of the building, according to the report.

Miraculously, a prayer book (siddur) that was inside the van at the time remained intact, although the rabbi’s van itself was destroyed.

“This is a hug from God,” the rabbi told NBC. “God is telling us to all stand together and we always have to at times like this to turn back to our prayer books, turn back to God.”

Despite the destruction, Shabbat prayer services were held at the site, albeit outside the building, Slavaticki said.

“We have to look at the positive,” he added. “It’s a time to reflect on unity and coming together and continuing to be a light to the community.”


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.