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Community remains angry, but strong in face of menorah vandalism

by Judith Hruz


The community continues to express disbelief and anger at seeing the outdoor menorah at Chabad of Olney desecrated on the first night of Hanukkah nearly a month ago.

But Rabbi Bentzy Stolik had asked the “very distressed” Jewish community, even on the evening the menorah was found toppled onto the sidewalk in front of the synagogue on Georgia Avenue, not to give up.

He encouraged Jews to light menorahs at windows every night of Hanukkah, which began Dec. 7 and ended at nightfall Dec. 15.

“For the Jewish community, acts like these don’t slow us down or cause us to run away and hide,” he said. “To the contrary, it inspires us to want to ensure that the light of our menorahs and the fight for freedom to celebrate our religion and faith are only strengthened.”

County Executive Marc Elrich has discussed the rise of vandalism and hate crimes in the county for well over a year.

Just two days before the incident at Chabad of Olney, antisemitic graffiti was four on the wall of a restroom stall at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, according to a letter sent to the community by Principal Elizabeth L. Thomas on Dec. 7.

Other antisemitic graffiti has been reported at elementary, middle and high schools in the county and two teachers were placed on administrative leave because of social media posts Montgomery County Public Schools officials said were antisemitic.

In early December, Elrich reported that 54 police reports in October were connected to hate crimes and 60 in November tied to hate crimes.

During his year-end media briefing on Dec. 27, Elrich said he looks to 2024 to be a “more peaceful and kinder than this year’s been, abroad and within our own communities.”

Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Dist. 14) said the vandalism is still on his mind, yet he has faith in the larger community.

“While I remain saddened and sickened by the rise in antisemitism, it does not reflect the overall kindness and strength of our community,” he said. “Together, we will ensure Maryland is a place where hate has no home.”

Stolik said that within a short period of time after the vandalism occurred — police were called to the synagogue around 4:30 p.m. — the community began to come together to help.

“Word got out very fast in our small and wonderful community of Olney, Maryland, and texts and phone calls of support started flooding in within minutes,” he said.

“A few community members, determined to get our menorah up for the first night of Hanukkah, managed to figure out a temporary fix and get it up within hours,” the rabbi said.

He reminded the community that “while some are bent on causing darkness, we encourage everyone to take part in adding light.”

And the community did just that, turning out for the annual Hanukkah Parade sponsored by Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department and Chabad of Olney on the fifth night of Hanukkah and the Torah Dedication on the sixth night of Hanukkah.

Janet Weinberger of Baltimore, who was visiting family in Olney, said she was “overwhelmed by the joy” of the festivities.

“I am proud that the community gathered together despite the hateful vandalism,” she said

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