One day after federal authorities stopped a plot to send explosive packages to Chicago-area synagogues, nine light bulbs were ripped from their sockets on the 6-foot Hanukkah menorah in front of a Northwestern Jewish center. One arm of the menorah was torn at its base, left hanging limply.
Someone vandalized the menorah in front of the Tannenbaum Chabad House, 2014 Orrington Ave., on Saturday night, Chabad director Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein said. The Evanston Police Department, which could not be reached for comment, informed Klein of the vandalism early Sunday morning, he said.
“I’ve been in this community for so long, and we’ve never had vandalism of this nature,” Klein said. “I was pretty saddened by it. I felt somewhat violated.”
Chabad plans to address the incident in a forum Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. in an undecided location, Klein said.
Rachel Zinn, president of Chabad’s student executive board, said though the details of the forum are tentative, she wants participants to engage in a conversation about how incidents like the vandalized menorah affect the community. Zinn has been in touch with the chaplain’s office and hopes President Morton Schapiro will be involved with the forum.
“I hope that anyone who feels that hate crimes are unacceptable will be there,” the SESP senior said. “I hope there are people there who want to learn about different religions, particularly about the symbols of those religions.”
Klein compared the Chabad vandalism to previous Halloweens, when students dressed up in blackface — causing heated debate about race on campus — as well as the chalking of stick figure versions of Mohammed by Secular Humanists for Inquiry and FreeThought last year. He said it is important to have formal and casual conversation among NU community members to address these issues.
“It’s about learning from everybody and trying to gain understanding from different people in our community and around the world,” he said. “We need to stand up as a community and say this is not acceptable.”
Although Klein said police have classified the incident as a hate crime, he does not know if the vandal intended to target Chabad.
“Sometimes people throw eggs at houses (on Halloween), but it’s very different when you’re targeting a religious organization on campus,” he said. “Even if they did it accidentally, or it was just mischief on Halloween, it’s a lack of sensitivity and a lack of awareness of the importance of Jewish items and symbols.”
In the more than 15 years the menorah has stood outside the Chabad House, Klein recalls only one other act of vandalism targeted at Chabad, which occurred about 12 years ago.
Although Klein said he doubts Saturday’s vandalism is connected with the explosive packages directed at Chicago synagogues Friday, he said the incidents give him a sense of risk in the community.
“Maybe you have to look over your shoulder once in a while for people who feel hatefulness toward the Jewish community,” he said. “It’s a significant campus community, so it’s an attack on the entire campus.”
Michael Lobel, president of NU Fiedler Hillel Leadership Council, said NU and its Jewish community should be more aware of these threats.
“It was definitely a little bit of a reminder that despite the fact we live in a very supportive and great environment at Northwestern and in general, there’s people out there that don’t like the Jewish people,” the Weinberg senior said. “And they would like to hurt me, my friends and my family because of who I am — that’s disturbing.”
Hillel Executive Director Michael Simon said Hillel will be heightening its awareness of the situation and monitoring suspicious activity. However, he does not believe the explosive packages are connected to the Chabad vandalism.
Simon said he hopes the vandalized menorah is an isolated incident and not meant to target a particular group.
“We stand in solidarity with our colleagues at Chabad House and hope there are not further actions of this kind,” Simon said. “It’s not in keeping with neighborly environment of Northwestern.”