Pieces of concrete thrown at Chabad of Oakland shattered the bullet-resistant safety glass on the storefront-style Chabad center on June 21 and July 6. (Courtesy)
Pieces of concrete thrown at Chabad of Oakland shattered the bullet-resistant safety glass on the storefront-style Chabad center on June 21 and July 6. (Courtesy)

Attacker hurls chunk of concrete at Oakland Chabad center — again

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Updated July 9 at 11:14 a.m. with comment from the Oakland Police Department.

Two recent acts of vandalism targeting Chabad of Oakland have exasperated its rabbi, who told J. on Monday that he doesn’t believe police are taking such crimes seriously. 

Late at night on June 21, a man hurled a hefty chunk of concrete at a front-facing window of the Chabad center for Jewish life, causing damage. Two weeks later, just after midnight on Saturday, a man wound up, shotput style, and chucked a smaller piece of concrete at the Chabad center that did more damage than the first. The concrete cracked but did not shatter the window, which will need to be replaced. All of the windows at street level are made of an expensive bullet-resistant material installed earlier this year for safety, said Rabbi Dovid Labkowski, who runs Chabad of Oakland.

Both incidents were captured on video.

The first incident was not reported at the time, Labkowski said. When he called 911 to report the second incident, he said he was told to go online to file an incident report. 

“They said these things happen all the time. Just go on the website and fill out a form,” he said. “They weren’t going to come take fingerprints or even send units.”

But the rabbi, who had met recently with Oakland’s new chief of police, decided to write an email to high-level police officials. By Monday, officers were on the scene, he told J., and they promised to investigate the matter thoroughly.

“Hopefully there will be followups,” he said. “Actions speak louder than words.”

The incident comes after a dramatic hate crime in Oakland in December, when vandals destroyed Chabad of Oakland’s large public menorah alongside Lake Merritt and tossed pieces into the lake. Messages were scrawled near the site, including “We’re gonna find you” and “Free Palestine,” which was written in Arabic. Police have not made an arrest in connection with that incident.

California reported 289 anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2023 — a 53% jump over the previous year.

The Chabad center sits on a busy part of Lakeshore Avenue. Labkowski said it isn’t uncommon to hear of congregants being robbed or having their cars broken into in the area, and the incidents rarely, if ever, lead to arrests. Some have said sacred items like tefillin were stolen from their vehicles parked near Oakland Kosher, a local grocery store.

The two concrete chunks that were used to attack Chabad of Oakland on June 21 and July 6. (Courtesy)

“My frustration comes from the crime going on in Oakland in general,” he said. “The smash-and-grabs. Stuff that happens in front of the synagogue all the time.”

Property crime has long dogged the city, while statistics show the rate of clearance — the percentage of crimes reported to police that result in charges — are extremely low. Only one in a thousand property crimes recorded by the state’s OpenJustice portal were cleared last year in Oakland.

Arrests for violent crimes, too, are exceedingly rare in Oakland. Last year, just three out of every 100 were cleared, a historic low at 3.2%. The city’s clearance rate has declined dramatically in recent years; in 2016, the clearance rate for violent crime was 32%.

The Oakland Police Department told J. that it is investigating both incidents at the Chabad center as “potential hate crimes.”

“Members of OPD’s Executive Team and Command Staff have already met with and continue to stay in contact with the synagogue’s Rabbi,” the department wrote in an email to J. late Monday. “This is an ongoing investigation.”

At the recent meeting with Oakland Police Chief Floyd Mitchell — where Labkowski was joined by other Oakland rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community — the group discussed protecting the community against antisemitic hate crimes among other issues. 

“We met all the higher-ups,” Labkowski said, adding he’s “hopeful” that law enforcement will respond to the recent incidents but “it’s all about actions” rather than promises.

Labkowski feels certain that his Chabad center was targeted because it is easily identifiable as a Jewish center (its sign says “Chabad center for Jewish life” in all caps). The incidents come during a time when Jews in his community feel under threat and antisemitism is on the rise.

“Oakland is a place where there are so many demonstrations lately against Jews after Oct. 7,” he said.

The suspect wasn’t trying to get inside, he added, “just throwing the rock as strong as they could and not even looking back — clearly it was a hate crime. He was trying to do damage to the synagogue.”

Labkowski said the Chabad center is keeping the two chunks of concrete in the shul, and they will be used in the construction of something new, perhaps a mikvah (ritual bath), to “turn that negativity into something positive.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.