Hundreds rally in Oakland after Menorah destroyed, thrown into Lake Merritt in possible hate crime

The largest Menorah in Oakland vandalized, tossed into Lake Merritt in the middle of Hanukkah

ByJ.R. Stone and Ryan Curry KGO logo
Thursday, December 14, 2023
Hundreds rally in Oakland after Menorah destroyed, thrown into lake
Hundreds of people rallied together on this Hanukkah and made their way to Lake Merritt to replace and relight Oakland's largest Menorah.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The largest menorah in Oakland has been destroyed and tossed into Lake Merritt in the middle of Hanukkah, setting off a search on Wednesday for the person behind this possible hate crime.

Authorities say the vandalism happened overnight and it comes as cases of antisemitism rise across the United States.

City crews cleaned up the debris and broken glass of the menorah. The base of the menorah has been thrown into the lake.

Police showed up Wednesday morning and started a police report of the incident.

The largest Menorah in Oakland was destroyed and tossed into Lake Merritt in the middle of Hanukkah.

The rabbi from the Chabad Center in Oakland says he received a text about the damage early Wednesday morning.

The menorah went up Sunday evening during big event from the city honoring Hanukkah.

Mayor Sheng Thao was there, as well as other city leaders, and many from the Oakland Jewish community.

The rabbi says there were some protesters chanting "Free Palestine" during the event, but they were still able to hold the ceremony.

But on Wednesday, the menorah is damaged, and the rabbi says he was distraught to hear the news.

"I would never imagine that the menorah, which is a symbol of light, would be something that someone would want to destroy it. I don't know why. I know the air is toxic these days and it shouldn't be that way," said Rabbi Dovid Labkowski with the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland.

MORE: 'Concerned and afraid': Jews celebrate Hanukkah amid rise in hate

Rabbi Labkowski was talking with Oakland police when the report was being filed.

He didn't say if he knows of any suspects yet.

ABC7 News translated the Arabic words that were spray-painted around the edges of the amphitheater, which read "Free Palestine."

Mayor Thao released a statement on X.

"Oakland's Jewish community is an essential part of Oakland's diversity and strength and the city of Oakland takes incidents like the vandalism of the Lake Merritt Menorah very seriously."

Vandalized Menorah replaced at nighttime vigil

Hundreds of people rallied together on this Hanukkah and made their way to Lake Merritt to replace and relight Oakland's largest menorah.

"When I heard the news this morning I cried, I felt very hurt sad scared," said Rose Fried of Oakland.

There was not only sadness from those in Oakland's Jewish community but also anger, and a will to come together and rally.

Vehicle after vehicle could be seen with menorahs on top of them -- a show of support and unity among both the Jewish community and others.

"I love Oakland! I think it is diverse and a beautiful community and what it's turning into is hateful and frightening," said Fried.

MORE: As antisemitism rises, Bay Area Jewish organizations taking extra security measures

As reported antisemitic incidents rise, some Bay Area Jewish organizations are implementing extra security measures to keep the community safe.

Wednesday night, that car parade ended at Lake Merritt, where hundreds rallied in the form of not only a vigil, but the lighting of an all-new menorah in the area where the old one once stood. They sang songs as the menorah was lit.

While the mood was a positive one, the message was bold and straight to the point.

"It is that the hatred that has been allowed to spread unchecked across university campuses and city halls, has now festered into Oakland at levels we could not have expected," said one rabbi.

"I understand and I have sympathy for the people of Gaza but it was Hamas, the ones that perpetuated all of this problem," said one community member.

"Thank you for mobilizing so quickly to show the community and the unity and the support and that we will not allow antisemitism, or hate, or destruction to prevail," said Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

MORE: Jewish community protests Oakland teachers' resolution supporting Palestinians, cease-fire

Some here even referenced the Arabic graffiti left in the area that translates to "Free Palestine."

"I read the message they left at the place where they destroyed the menorah here. It's a death threat, it's nothing else but a death threat and we should not take it lightly," said Inga Pevchim who is a Fremont resident.

Speakers at the menorah lighting included California Attorney General Rob Bonta who said that hate crimes have become all too common in California.

"Too many people have been attacked and targeted and hurt and harmed because of who they are where they are from and how they pray, and that is wrong," said Bonta.

Wednesday night's event was peaceful, but no arrests have been made in this menorah case and no suspect descriptions have been given.

This is an active investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact the OPD General Crimes Section at (510)238-3728.

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