Sometime between late Thursday night and early Friday morning, Zeta Beta Tau’s menorah was vandalized. Then, at about 1 a.m. Sunday, it was stolen, according to State College police.
“The Zeta Beta Tau menorah was recovered, but there is lasting damage — to the menorah, the Jewish community, and to all Penn Staters who value their own personal rights of worship,” Penn State President Eric Barron wrote in a Dec. 2 blog post. “It is difficult for me to fathom why anyone would engage in such acts, and I know I’m not alone. I have seen our Penn State community unite to support and encourage one another. There is tremendous good in the hearts of those who live, learn and work on our campuses. We cannot allow the misguided and hateful acts of a few to stand unchallenged. If you see something, say something.”
State College police Lt. Greg Brauser said the vandalism and theft incidents were unrelated, and there are suspects in both cases.
As originally planned, Zeta Beta Tau went ahead with a community event Sunday night to light the first candles of Hanukkah outside its 328 E. Fairmount Ave. house.
Rabbi Nosson Meretsky, director of Chabad of Penn State, said it was a “heartwarming” and “special” event.
Zeta Beta Tau members fundraised $1,800 for the 9-foot menorah “to start a new tradition,” the fraternity’s president, Adam Schwartz, said in an email Saturday.
“We want to show support for the Jewish community especially after what has happened in Pittsburgh and other events around the country,” he said.
On Oct. 27, a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. According to the Anti-Defamation League, it’s believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
About a month ago, a vigil for the mass shooting victims was held at Old Main. This week, Penn State and State College community members will gather again, not in mourning this time but in celebration, Meretsky said.
The 12-foot menorah that will be on display at the Allen Street Gates through Hanukkah will be lit at 5 p.m. Wednesday in front of Old Main. Following the menorah lighting, there will be latkes and hot chocolate served in Old Main’s lobby.
And in the face of what happened with Zeta Beta Tau’s menorah and the Squirrel Hill shooting, Meretsky said the only thing they’ll be doing differently with this year’s menorah lighting is to make it bigger.
“The only way to counteract darkness is with light,” he said.
When there is hate and darkness, Meretsky said, it’s like a wake-up call.
“It inspires us to think what more we can do and to go ahead and do it,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time a menorah had been vandalized or stolen in State College. Last year, a large menorah was stolen from in front of Rabbi Hershy Gourarie’s home and found damaged a day later in front of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Four individuals were charged in connection to the incident.
Penn State encourages witnesses to acts of “intolerance” on the university’s campus to report them anonymously using the Penn State Hotline at 800-560-1637 or hotline.psu.edu.