VENTNOR — A large outdoor menorah at Chabad at the Shore was pulled out of the ground and dragged to a neighboring property on the eve of Passover by an intoxicated man officers charged, then took to a hospital for evaluation, police said.
Shaneel Singh, 45, of Ventnor, was charged with criminal mischief, said police Capt. Joe Fussner.
“There was no indication it was a bias incident towards the synagogue or the religion,” said Fussner.
But Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport of Chabad at the Shore said some in the congregation suspect it may be a hate crime. Even though drunk, the suspect could have chosen any number of ways to act out, he said.
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“This person chose a religious symbol and place, right on the eve of the holiday,” said Rapoport. “It’s unfortunate timing ... the time we celebrate the Passover holiday and freedom, that this has to happen. But Thank God everyone is safe.”
He said congregants were setting up for the Friday night seder, the Jewish ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the first night or first two nights of Passover, for 120 people when the incident happened.
Since the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings that killed 11 people last year, synagogues all over the country have increased security, and Chabad at the Shore is no exception.
“We have a security guard ever since the Pittsburgh shooting,” said Rapoport. He said the congregation was fortunate enough to get a state grant to help pay for the added security.
Fussner said police were called about 9:30 p.m. by someone who saw a man take down the 6-to-7-foot-tall menorah outside the synagogue at Atlantic and Avolyn avenues.
“We responded and made contact with the subject, who is very familiar to us,” said Fussner. “He was charged and taken to the hospital due to the high level of intoxication.”
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Fussner said the light bulbs of the menorah were damaged, but it did not appear the menorah was destroyed.
“We stopped him right there with it,” said Fussner.
Rapoport said the congregation has not had a chance to fully test the damage to the menorah but will do so after Passover. He said bulbs were broken and wires ripped out.
Three menorahs were damaged in December 2017 in Margate during Hanukkah. One was outside the Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center, which is across the street from Beth El Synagogue on Jerome Avenue; another at the Sigmund S. Rimm Recreational Complex on Winchester Avenue, and the third at the city fishing pier.
Passover begins at sundown Friday.
“We will focus on the traditions and the holiday. We’ll try to focus on having a positive evening,” said Rapoport.