UF Hillel group upset after finding menorah vandalized

The University of Florida Hillel had its Hanukkah celebration marred over the weekend by the vandalism of a large outdoor menorah on its Gainesville property.

Hillel members discovered Saturday that the menorah had apparently been pulled from its foundation, thrown down and its oil lamps were damaged, said Joshua Kahn, Israel program director for Hillel. He said the vandalism follows an incident Friday night in which about 10 people were witnessed saying “[Expletive] the Jews” before kicking over a fence on the property.

“I’m hoping that it wasn’t anti-Semitism, and it’s just a bunch of drunk kids,” he said.

The UF Hillel, an organization for Jewish college students, is holding a menorah rededication at 7 p.m. tonight in the garden of the West University facility. Kahn said the event seemed appropriate, given the fact that Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of a temple destroyed in Jerusalem.

“We thought it would be very fitting that we would have a rededication of the menorah and show that in the face of intolerance, we’re still here,” he said.

He said both incidents were reported to police, but the reports were not immediately available Sunday.

The incidents follow a report released Friday by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum that found Alachua County ranked second in the state in hate crimes in 2009, with 20 reported over the course of the year.

The cases included a swastika painted on a Jewish fraternity house on the UF campus.

UF has the largest Jewish population of any public university in the nation, according to the national Hillel group.

The menorah was installed at the UF Hillel at the start of the eight-day holiday. A candle is traditionally lit on each night.

Kahn said the damage was discovered before Saturday’s lighting and was extensive enough to appear to be deliberate vandalism rather than the wind knocking it over.

“I’m hoping it’s just a bunch of rowdy kids, but it’s worrisome that it’s one thing after another during this holiday season,” he said.