Queens Jewish community protests menorah toppling

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"My reaction is why? It was unobtrusive and it stands for religious freedom," said Manny Behar, the executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, standing in front of a large menorah that was re-erected after being knocked down in Federoff Square at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 67th Road during the early hours of Dec. 29.

The 16-foot tall menorah in Federoff Square belongs to the Chabad of Rego Park, a Hasidic synagogue at 62-38 99th St. with about 30 members. The other menorah, which was placed in MacDonald Park, close to 70th Avenue, belongs to the Chabad of Flushing, another Hassidic synagogue located at 77-03 Main St.

The anti-Semitic acts are being investigated as possible bias crimes, police said.

Rabbi Eli Blokh, the leader of the Chabad of Rego Park, said his synagogue's menorah, which had been extinguished after Chanukah, was scheduled to be put back into storage on the day it was knocked down. But he and other Jewish leaders decided to put it back up anyway so that it would send the message that Jews will not be intimidated.

"The ironic thing is if it hadn't been knocked down, it would be gone by now," said Behar at the Dec. 30 protest. "We decided we were going to make it stand again, even if it's only for a little while."

Behar and other leaders of the Queens Jewish Community Council, an umbrella organization that includes nearly 100 Jewish organizations in Queens, decided to organize last week's protest after it was told of the menorah topplings by Rabbi Blokh.

A representative of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said the congressman is looking into having federal authorities investigate the anti-Semitic acts. Weiner held a ceremony in Federoff Square on Dec. 21, the third night of Chanukah, to publicly light the giant menorah.

Blokh said despite the recent "act of malice" he plans to put up more menorahs throughout Rego Park and Forest Hills on Chanukah this year.

Rabbi Shraga Zalmanov, the leader of the Chabad of Flushing, said his synagogue's menorah was knocked down in the same location in MacDonald Park four years ago during the middle of Chanukah, and the perpetrator was never caught.

"Some people look to scare Jews and make them feel uncomfortable where they live," said Zalmanov. "Today, hatred is even stronger than four years ago. Unfortunately, since Sept. 11, the world has more hatred towards religion, towards Judaism."

Zalmanov said his synagogue's menorah was re-erected four years ago because it had been knocked over during the middle of Chanukah. This year Zalmanov decided not to put the menorah back up because it was due to be removed anyway following the end of the holiday.

Both Blokh and Zalmanov said the menorahs had not been knocked over by the wind because they are very heavy and are weighed down by about 750 pounds of sand bags.

"It's solid steel," said Blokh. "It was put up with a crane, and even to turn it at an angle is difficult."

The toppling of the two menorahs followed a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in Queens and Brooklyn, including the drawing of swastikas in front of a residence in Bayside on Dec. 26, the delivery of a letter containing anti-Semitic remarks to 125-01 Queens Blvd. on the same day and a series of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The Thanksgiving incidents included the spray-painting of a swastika inside an elevator at 99-16 67th Rd. in Forest Hills on Nov. 29; the carving of a swastika inside an elevator at 93-37 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills on Nov. 27; the carving of a 5-by-6-inch swastika into the door of the Sons of Israel in Long Island City on Nov. 29; the spray-painting of anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls and floor of a house on 114th Street in the 106th Precinct on Nov. 29 and the slashing of tires on 28 cars in Borough Park, Brooklyn on Nov. 27.

No arrests have been made yet in connection with any of the acts.

"Whoever knocked these down, shame on you. Leave the borough. You don't belong here," said Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz at last week's protest. "We celebrate diversity. You can knock us down but you can't knock us out."

Rabbi Manfred Gans of the Congregation Machane Chodosh of Forest Hills said the hateful vandals had ruined the atmosphere of peace and goodwill during the holiday season.

"By destroying the symbol of Jewish peace, you have undermined the very structure of the country in which we live," said Gans. "I urge you to search in your heart to find the love and respect for one another that brings peace to the world."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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