Chabad House rabbi calls for donations, open dialogue in face of menorah damage

Paige Leskin, City Editor

Two weeks after the menorah in front of the Tannenbaum Chabad House was vandalized, its rabbi is looking to the Northwestern network and the local community to fund a replacement for the Jewish symbol.

The harm that the menorah sustained in the early morning of Oct. 25 has left it destroyed and beyond repair, Chabad House Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein said. The incident, which was the third time in the past six months that the menorah has been damaged, shows the need for increased sensitivity of the community toward religion, he said.

“I think most of our students know what a menorah is. It wasn’t a Halloween decoration that was pushed over,” Klein said. “Maybe perhaps we as a campus need to be having conversation about religious diversity, the meaning of religious symbols … I’m not sure if those conversations are really happening.”

Klein said the incident occurred between the time he left Shabbat services at the Chabad House, 2014 Orrington Ave., early Oct. 25 at about 12:30 a.m., and when he returned later that morning to the house. After Shabbat had ended Saturday night, he said he was able to review the video footage of the vandalism.

The rabbi said the video showed one student, who was walking by the house with another student, approach the menorah and knock it over. The student did not look intoxicated, but instead “maliciously” intended to damage the menorah, Klein said. He filed a report with Evanston police soon after watching the footage.

Evanston police Cmdr. Jay Parrott compared the incident with a similar occurrence in May when the menorah was damaged and said it was probably someone intoxicated who made a poor decision to knock over the menorah.

In the incident in May, police released a video that showed a man tipping over the large menorah, causing a light bulb on it to shatter.

Parrott said he has not seen any video of the most recent incident. Klein said he is waiting on police to pick up the footage from him.

Police do not believe that the incident was a hate crime and have not categorized it as one, Parrott said.

In response to the damage to the menorah, an alumnus pledged to pay for half of the new menorah if the Chabad House could raise the other 50 percent, Klein said. The menorah would cost around $1,200 in total, half of which Klein hopes to raise through donations from NU students, their parents and other alumni, he said.

Klein said he plans to hold a dedication ceremony once the new menorah comes in, similar to what the Chabad House did in 2010 when the menorah was vandalized four years ago. He hopes to invite NU student groups that represent various minorities and faiths to join with the Jewish community to form unity across religious lines, Klein said.

“A solidarity of all of us coming together to make a strong statement that we will not tolerate religious intolerance on our campus, no matter who it’s being perpetrated to, I think that will be a very strong positive message to the campus community,” Klein said. “The menorah represents freedom of religion. What you’re doing is attacking that freedom.”

At the Associated Student Government’s weekly meeting Wednesday, Senate passed legislation that condemned the recent vandalism that had happened at Chabad House and voiced the organization’s commitment to fighting religious intolerance. Adam Stewart, president of Chabad House’s student executive board, called the resolution a “step in the right direction.”

“(The vandalism) really shows that there’s a lot of work to do in terms of more acceptance both in the University community and in the world at large,” the Weinberg senior said. “It’s great that there’s a lot of student support behind Chabad.”

The backing of the students is only the first course of action, Klein said. He said he hoped the NU administration would follow suit in condemning the damage to the menorah and bringing the issue of religious diversity to the forefront of discussion on campus.

Klein asked that the students who caused the damage not be “cowards” and come forward, explaining what they were feeling and opening up a dialogue with Chabad House about religion.

“There’s no question that things have been stirring over the last few months in Israel and in the Middle East,” Klein said. “Could this be a reaction to that? I don’t know. But I don’t know that the conversations are really taking place in a very strong way today. And I think those conversations need to be happening.”

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Twitter: @paigeleskin