Early on November 30th, the large menorah on Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity’s front lawn was torn down by vandals, carried away and then returned significantly damaged. This act of hatred and bigotry is being investigated by State College Police and is especially personal and disturbing in light of the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, just over a month ago.
My son, Daniel, is a senior at Penn State and a brother at ZBT. Just this past year, the brotherhood obtained a lease for their new house and were proudly looking forward to lighting the menorah together this Chanukah. The brothers fundraised in order to purchase the menorah, which cost several thousand dollars, although it is priceless to them (and all of us) in its meaning and symbolism.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Last year, four Penn State students stole a 9-foot menorah from the home of the Chabad rabbi and left it damaged outside another Jewish fraternity’s house. Some have suggested that this could’ve been a stupid and tasteless prank, but it is hard to view this act as anything but hateful in the context of today’s climate of intolerance and bigotry. With the number of horrific anti-Semitic acts, which seem to be growing at an alarming rate, it is hard to see this as anything but a despicable hate crime. Just this week, a Jewish professor at Columbia University found swastikas spray-painted in her office.
Ironically, Chanukah is sometimes viewed as a “non-religious” Jewish holiday. It is based on a story of bravery, survival, and resilience. The menorah represents religious freedom, light, and hope. Back in the days of the Maccabees, Jews rose up against their Greek oppressors, reclaiming their temple and finding enough oil to light the menorah for one night; however, as the story goes, the menorah miraculously remained lit for eight nights
Maybe what we need this Sunday night, as we light the first candle, is a modern-day miracle. Perhaps if we all find enough tolerance in our hearts to last just one day, eventually the power of true acceptance and positivity could help us make a lasting change. Naive, I know… But what else can I hope for on the eve of the festival of lights?
A statement released by ZBT stated that “Given other recent hate-based incidents across our country, Zeta Beta Tau will double-and triple-down our efforts to root out intolerance and hate.” I am encouraged that even in the wake of such a personal and hurtful attack on the home-away-from-home of these young men, they remain positive, stating that “ZBT is committed to being part of the solution by educating those in need of it to make a safer and more inclusive world for all.”
Penn State’s Hillel strongly condemned this act in a statement released today, vowing to continue working with the administration to make Penn State an inclusive and safe community for Jewish students. PSU Hillel will stand with ZBT’s brotherhood to light the first candle on the repaired menorah at the chapter house. It is heartwarming, although not surprising that Hillel is standing for and with ZBT brothers, but what we need, is for the entire community to feel outraged and stand together against hate.
In a speech my teen daughter delivered after the Pittsburgh shooting, she quoted Martin Luther King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
The desecration of the ZBT’s menorah is not an isolated act of hate against a Jewish fraternity, it is an act of hate against all those who believe in religious freedom, tolerance, and acceptance. In her speech, my daughter stated that “Silence is deadly because it does nothing but support the hateful people. This isn’t just an act of hate against the Jewish people, but an act of hate against all human people. If one group of people are targeted for worshiping God differently, we should all be terrified, regardless of what religion we identify with.”
I could not have said it better myself.