A menorah placed in downtown Lancaster was intentionally damaged sometime overnight, according to city police. An unidentified vandal or vandals damaged the 460-pound steel menorah in Penn Square sometime Friday night or Saturday morning, police said in a news release.
Investigators are gathering video footage from the surrounding area and searching for witnesses who are willing to step forward. Anyone with information about the incident is urged to call police at 717-735-3301.
The custom-built menorah is brand new, having been unveiled in the northeast corner of the square just last weekend, a few feet away from the city’s Christmas tree, said Miriam Baumgartner, board president of the Jewish Community Alliance of Lancaster, which helped purchase the menorah.
The menorah is designed to resemble a red rose bush as a nod to the City of Lancaster. Eighteen roses are placed on the menorah, representing the Hebrew word “chai,” meaning “life.”
Several of the menorah’s arms were bent forward. Letters spelling out the word “Lancaster” were also bent, with the base of the letters being disconnected from the rest of the installation. Several of the menorah’s metal “branches” also appeared to have been cut.
At least two Fulton Bank cameras appeared to be facing the menorah.
A city official at the nearby Lancaster City Visitor Center noticed the damage around 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Police issued a statement saying they and the city “will continue to stand with our community partners in the Jewish faith community.”
The menorah will undergo emergency repairs Saturday afternoon to make it useable in time for the beginning of Hanukkah on Sunday night. A ceremony to celebrate the first lighting of the menorah will continue as scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
York artist Mark Lewin, who built the menorah, planned to further repair the piece Tuesday.
Lewin said he was angered by the vandalism. “We will build it back bigger and better,” he said in a statement provided to LNP|LancasterOnline.
Lancaster city put out a statement of their own saying they “will not allow fear, hatred, or ignorance to cast a shadow over a celebration of light” and urged people to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community for the lighting of the menorah Sunday night.
City council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El described the defacement as “a violation of our core values,” echoing the city’s calls to attend the menorah lighting.
Reverend Timothy Mentzer, speaking on behalf of the Downtown Ministerium, an association of clergy and faiths including interfaith communities in Lancaster city, said “We are grateful as a Ministerium to be able to turn a time of damage to a Jewish religious symbol of enlightened hope to a time of solidarity among all the faith communities in a year that has seen increasing acts of antisemitic speech and action.”
Rabbi Jack Paskoff of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, who will be facilitating Sunday’s menorah lighting, described the vandalism as a “horror.”
“This is a frightening time for Jews in this county,” he said.
Paskoff expressed confidence that police will find the vandal or vandals responsible for the act and urged friends of the Jewish community and local elected leaders to stand with them Sunday night.
Congregation Shaarai Shomayim will split duties of lighting the menorah each night of Hanukkah along with JCAL, the Klehr Center, Temple Beth El Lancaster and Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center.
Paskoff also expressed disappointment in local elected leaders, noting Smith-Wade-El and Mayor Danene Sorace were the only individual politicians to issue statements decrying the vandalism by late Saturday afternoon.
“That silence to me is startling and horrifying,” he said.