Vandals Target Synagogue, Public Hanukkah Displays

By Anthony Weiss

Published December 30, 2005, issue of December 30, 2005.
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Vandals desecrated public Hanukkah displays in four municipalities across the country, while leaving adjacent Christmas displays untouched. And in Canada, Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta, was spray-painted with antisemitic graffiti — including a swastika — on Christmas Eve.

Between December 13 and December 24, menorah displays in Philadelphia; Orange County, Calif., and the hamlets of Holbrook and Baldwin on Long Island were vandalized. In each instance, adjacent Christmas displays were not disturbed, reportedly raising the possibility that the crimes were motivated by antisemitism. The cases are all being investigated as potential hate crimes.

Local police departments reported no developments in any of the investigations.

Myrna Shinbaum, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, said that antisemitic vandalism is not unusual for this time of year. “Any time there is a very visible presence of Jews, we see a spike of antisemitic acts,” she told the Forward. She said that the ADL did not consider this year’s level of vandalism unusually high.

Alberta’s Beth Shalom Synagogue has historically been the target of antisemitic vituperation and violence. A 1982 firebombing destroyed the upstairs portion of the synagogue, and the synagogue was firebombed two more times in 2000. The synagogue also has received a number of antisemitic e-mails and phone calls in recent years (its rabbi, David Kunin, said that most of the hate messages came after he criticized “The Passion of the Christ”).

By contrast, the vandalism of the menorah in Cianfrani Park, in the Bella Vista neighborhood in South Philadelphia, was unprecedented and unexpected, according to Vern Anastasio, Bella Vista United Civic Association president. Anastasio, who is not Jewish, told the Forward that Bella Vista has long been a home to immigrants from many countries and was accustomed to diversity.

After the menorah was ripped down from its support a week after an installation ceremony, Anastasio insisted that the Philadelphia police department investigate the case as a potential hate crime. Himself a former hate crimes investigator for the City of Philadelphia, Anastasio noted that the menorah was firmly strapped to a 10-foot pole, and that it would have been far easier to damage the nearby Christmas tree. “It was torn down, then torn apart,” Anastasio said. “It’s not like it just fell.”

The Bella Vista civic association installed another menorah within 24 hours and held a second widely attended ceremony to rededicate the menorah. “For that day,” Anastasio said, “we were all Jewish.”

A similar string of events took place in Orange County, where a menorah in the community park of the Ladera Ranch development was vandalized. The Chabad center of nearby Mission Viejo donated a replacement menorah, and a crowd estimated at more than 500 people — Jewish and non-Jewish — turned out for the lighting ceremony on the first night of Hanukkah.

In each community, local community and religious leaders vowed to show their solidarity with the Jewish community against bigotry. Volunteers have been patrolling Cianfrani Park to protect the display, and Anastasio vowed that if vandals strike a second time, the menorah would be replaced again. “We’ll keep putting it up until tolerance beats bigotry,” he said.






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