College condemns anti-Semitism after Dartmouth Green menorah vandalized
Rabbi Moshe Leib Gray lights the menorah on Thursday evening to commemorate the last night of Hanukkah.
Updated Dec. 18, 2020 at 2:17 p.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2020 at 7:31 p.m.
As Jews across the country light their menorahs to celebrate the final night of Hanukkah, Hanover Police are investigating the vandalism of the large menorah installed on the Dartmouth Green. Late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, an unidentified perpetrator or group of perpetrators shot holes through seven of the nine lights in what campus groups and the College condemned as an anti-Semitic act of violence.
“It’s certainly a violating feeling when something like this happens,” Chabad Rabbi Moshe Leib Gray said. “It shakes you, because you think, ‘It will never happen to me,’ or, ‘It will never happen here.’”
Hanover Police lieutenant Scott Rathburn confirmed that the lights on the large menorah were damaged by what appeared to be a BB or pellet gun. The incident, reported by Gray, is believed to have occurred between about 6 p.m. on Tuesday and 6 p.m. on Wednesday. According to Rathburn, police are investigating the case as a “bias based incident.”
“This appalling act of anti-Semitism, perpetrated during Hanukkah in the heart of our campus, is an affront to all. We condemn this bigotry and hatred,” College President Phil Hanlon wrote in a Thursday afternoon email to campus. “Such acts leave members of our community feeling unsafe and afraid. They come from a place of ignorance and cowardice.”
Hanlon wrote that the College will be repairing the menorah “as soon as possible,” while the lighting of the eighth candle took place as scheduled on Thursday at 6 p.m. Around 100 people joined the Zoom livestream of the lighting, and around 20 others stood on the Green and observed as Gray stood on a ladder to sing prayers and light the menorah’s last candle.
Gray said that he discovered the vandalism when he went to light the seventh bulb on Wednesday, the seventh evening of Hanukkah. Upon his arrival, six bulbs and the central light were not lit, which he assumed was due to electrical problems — until he found that the bulbs had been shattered.
“They all had the same thing,” Gray said. “Somebody literally stood there at the base of the menorah and shot, with some kind of an air gun or BB gun.”
He noted that the “severe angle” of the entry and exit holes in the bulbs indicated that the bulbs were shot from almost directly below, which would have posed a public safety threat, he said, because there is no way of knowing where the projectiles would land.
Hanlon wrote that the College’s security staff is working with Hanover Police on the investigation. Rathburn said that although Hanover Police are checking with Dartmouth Safety and Security, they do not believe there is any video footage of the area. He added that the department welcomes any information about who may have been responsible for the incident.
Chabad vice president Benjamin Cape ’22 said that for many in the Jewish community, this incident pops what they saw as a “bubble” of safety. He said that a lot of Jews at Dartmouth “take for granted that these acts of anti-Semitism don’t happen” on campus.
“We all see these acts of anti-Semitism across the world and we always think, ‘Oh they’re there — they happen there,’” Cape said. “And it's not really until they happen in our backyard that we realize the severity of them and how real they really are.”
Gray added that Dartmouth has historically not had a “great reputation” on the issue of anti-Semitism and discrimination, noting that the school, like many other top universities at the time, maintained a Jewish quota in admissions for much of the early 20th century.
“The ability for students to celebrate and have a public display of their faith on the Hanover Green is important,” Gray said, adding that it gives the Jewish community on campus a “sense of pride.”
The College released its statement just before 5 p.m. on Thursday. The statement, which strongly condemned the act as anti-Semitic, is markedly more direct than the College’s statement following the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018. In the 2018 email, Hanlon condemned “violence, intolerance and toxic divisiveness” but did not name the incident or specifically condemn anti-Semitism.
In this evening’s statement, the College addressed the Jewish community.
“To the Jewish members of our community, at Dartmouth and beyond, we stand with you in anger and sadness at this despicable act, which is much more than vandalism or a prank, for it seeks to diminish the rich culture and history of the Jewish people,” Hanlon wrote.
Gray praised the College’s statement as “unequivocal.” During the candle lighting on Thursday evening, he thanked Hanlon for his “unwavering support.”
During an interview, Gray said that he “couldn’t be more heartened” by the response of the College and by the “outpouring” of community support — “literally hundreds of messages” — that he has received.
Members of Dartmouth Chabad and Dartmouth Hillel released a joint statement Thursday evening condemning the vandalism and linking it to a nationwide rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the past several years. Cape said that he hopes Greek organizations and other Dartmouth groups will release statements as well.
Cape added that the Jewish community must respond to “these acts of harm and flip them on their head” with “unity,” “love” and “compassion.”
“This is a dark act,” Gray said, “and we fight darkness with bringing light.”