By Hannah Levine Digital/Social Media Editor
Chanukah is meant to be a time to spread joy and happiness as we celebrate the miracle of the Festival of Lights, but for Battle Creek’s Temple Beth El, that wasn’t the case. The Jewish synagogue was vandalized over Thanksgiving weekend, just before Chanukah, when a hammer and chisel was used to damage a limestone Shabbat menorah engraved on the side of the building.
“I don’t know if it qualifies as a hate crime under Michigan law, but it certainly feels like one,” says Temple Beth El Co-president Larry Kaiser. Temple Beth El is situated on a street with many other places of worship, and yet, “ours was the only one attacked.”
Kaiser says this is not the first time the synagogue has been singled out. According to MLive, vandals drew swastikas on the building just a year and a half ago. For Kaiser, the difference between then and now is “this is permanent damage.” The vandalism was even more disheartening to Kaiser because the goal was not to gain entry to the building. “No attack was made on the doors or windows. The only attack was made on a symbol of Judaism.”
The temple is doing what they can to improve security with help from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and local police. “We had already taken steps to secure the temple after Pittsburgh, but will be revisiting additional options,” said Anna Horn in an email. As they continue to look at security systems, Kaiser says they are doing everything they can to find a system that is sufficient to make congregants feel safe.
The Battle Creek community has been sympathetic to the situation, and Temple Beth El staff have received calls from ministers, the Battle Creek Police chief and others, but still, Kaiser says “it’s very disappointing and disheartening.” As a longtime Battle Creek resident, he says he’s “always found it a welcoming place, but this is just terrible, and unfortunately it’s part of a growing trend.”
One older synagogue member saw the vandalism and said it was just as he experienced growing up, but until then he had felt free of anti-Semitic gestures. Kaiser says he, and everyone else at Temple Beth El, are reminded, “no one is free.”
Battle Creek Police have spoken with the Anti-Defamation League in Detroit, but though this type of vandalism has increased since the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, the police do not believe this was a hate crime at this time.
There are no suspects yet, but Kaiser says they expect the vandal is a teenager or an adult based on the damage and height of the hammered menorah. Battle Creek Police have been supportive of the synagogue and are keeping an eye on the situation.
If you or someone you know sees or hears anything suspicious or has more information, contact (269) 966-3322