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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The same week Samantha moved from New Jersey to St. Petersburg in May 2021, someone sprayed swastikas on the Florida Holocaust Museum.

“I’m glad to have a community, to have a support system and stuff,” she said. “That helps a lot.”

On Thursday, Samantha joined members of her Jewish community at the Chabad Center of St. Petersburg for a conversation on how to respond to the rise in anti-Semitism.

“Rather than allowing it to upset and drag us down,” Chabad Rabbi Alter Korf said, “find ways to channel that to something positive and constructive.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, attacks, harassment, and vandalism targeting American Jews reached an all-time high last year. Florida had nearly 200 reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2021, the fourth most of any state.

In late August, a group of neo-Nazis held swastikas and hateful messages on the Pinellas Trail bridge near the Chabad center.

Ahead of the Hanukkah holiday, Chabad is launching an initiative to spread positivity, acceptance, and Jewish pride called “Ambassadors of Light.”

“You know you light the menorah in public places, at the door of your home because the light should not remain contained inwards,” Rabbi Korf explained. “We should allow the light to spread outwards.”

Rabbi Korf is encouraging members of his community to gift menorahs to others so they too can light the candles during the eight nights of the holiday.

“Really knowing that my ancestors did it, knowing that people had to hide doing it back then and now we have big menorahs in the street and stuff, it’s definitely nice,” Samantha said.

Samantha told News Channel 8 it is important for Jews and non-Jews to not turn a blind eye even if they haven’t witnessed the hate in other people’s hearts.

“I really think some people need to wake up to just patterns that have happened in the past and what’s happening now and really not be in denial,” she said.

The first night of Hanukkah is Sunday, Dec. 18. Chabad is hosting a public menorah lighting in downtown St. Pete at the 20th annual Hanukkah in the City celebration.

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