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Old December 26th, 2006, 08:12 AM
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Another menorah vandalized

Another menorah vandalized

Second such attack in Suffolk County this month as police records show an increase in anti-Jewish crimes in 2006.

Newsday Staff Writer

December 25, 2006, 10:39 PM EST

A holiday menorah in front of a Bay Shore synagogue was knocked to the ground and destroyed early Monday morning, the second such hate crime in the county this month, Suffolk police said.

Congregants of the Jewish Center of Bay Shore arrived around 9 a.m. for services Monday and discovered that their large, metal menorah with all nine candles lit had been pushed onto the grass. The electric candles were dangling off, and one of the arms was disconnected.

"Today was supposed to be a really nice day for all of us," Mark Mersel, 52, of Islip, lamented. Mersel said the synagogue had planned a breakfast and film screening after the service. That went on as police arrived and investigated the scene outside.

But spirits were clearly dampened. "It's a shame people still have these types of feelings," Mersel said.

The crime follows a similar menorah destruction in St. James on Dec. 17. In that desecration, a surveillance videotape caught a young man jumping out of a car and kicking down an 8-foot-tall menorah the local chamber of commerce had displayed. No arrests have been made in that case, though Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks said investigators are following several leads.

Records show there have been a higher number of anti-Jewish crimes in Suffolk this year. There were 19 such crimes in 2004, 25 in 2005 and, as of November of this year, there were 30. Reecks said that overall the number of hate crimes has risen this year. There were 89 in all of 2005, and 94 through last month.

Reecks said the increase is partially explained by a change in the state law regarding the classification of crimes involving painted swastikas. Previously, marking a swastika on someone's property was considered an act of graffiti. As of June, it is classifiable as first-degree aggravated harassment, a felony.

The Christmas morning menorah destruction in Bay Shore wasn't the first anti-Semitic act the synagogue has seen in recent years. About six years ago, a menorah made of PVC pipe was torn down. Albert Beja, 82, of West Islip, the synagogue's treasurer and ritual director, said the congregation then purchased the metal one, believing it would be stronger.

"In order to pull it out, you need a measure of strength," Beja said.

Suffolk police agree this is a bias crime. Reecks, commander of the hate crimes unit, said neighbors hadn't reported hearing or seeing anything Sunday evening, but that they would recanvass the area since many are away.

Anyone with information is asked to call the hate crimes unit at 631-852-6323, or Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS.
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