A group of about ten vandals damaged the University of Florida Hillel’s menorah early Saturday morning, according to Hillel Executive Director Keith Dvorchik.
Dvorchik told New Voices that at around 11 p.m. on Friday night, Hillel staff saw about ten men walking through Hillel’s property shouting, “F-ck you, Jews! Happy Hanukkah!” Police came and told the men to leave the property, but on Saturday evening students noticed that, in Dvorchik’s words, the menorah had been pulled from the ground and discarded. Dvorchik assumes that the culprits were the same men who had shouted the expletives, and that they returned a few hours after the police had come.
This incident follows similar ones at Indiana University and the University of Ottawa. At Indiana, the Chabad House and Jewish studies department suffered vandalism, while at Ottawa someone stole and mangled the Jewish community’s Hanukkah menorah. The University of Florida, however, has the largest Jewish population of the three and one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, numbering at 8000.
Dvorchik said that the Jewish community has found a welcome home on campus, and that Saturday’s incident surprised him. He added, though, that he understands why vandals would choose Hanukkah as the time to express their hate.
“Hanukkah provides an easy opportunity to do something because you have a visible menorah,” he said. “You have a clear symbol that’s easy to vandalize.”
This is not the first time that the university has experienced anti-Semitism. According to the Gainesville Sun, vandals spray-painted a swastika on the outside of a Jewish fraternity last year.
Appropriate to the theme of the holiday, the Hillel plans to hold a re-dedication ceremony for the menorah tonight, which Dvorchik thinks will draw Jewish students from across campus. He added that other campus groups have reached out to Hillel in the wake of the news.
Because police have yet to apprehend any suspects, no one can determine the motivations of the vandals. Dvorchik said, though, that he does not think anti-Semitism was their sole motive.
“I think that if the alcohol wasn’t involved, they wouldn’t have done it,” he said. But I also thing they picked it for a specific reason. It wasn’t an accident.”