As congregants at Chabad at the Shore in Ventnor last month prepared for a service at the start of Passover, a man tore down the synagogue’s 2-meter-tall metal menorah, dragged it away and ripped it apart.
City police were called and arrested the man, Shaneel Singh, 45, of Ventnor. By the next day, they already had decided that “there was no indication it was a bias incident towards the synagogue or the religion,” and that only a charge of criminal mischief was warranted.
That seems unduly hasty.
Attacks on menorahs, one of Judaism’s most important symbols, are a familiar form of hate crime across America.
A menorah was stolen and damaged in late November at Penn State University, which had seen a similar attack the year before. A few days later, a man pushed over a large menorah at Harvard University. Like the attacker in Ventnor, he rode a bicycle to the crime scene.
Both attacks came barely a month after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
Ventnor’s neighbor Margate has seen repeated vandalizing of menorahs. In 2017, during Hanukkah celebrations, three menorahs were damaged in a single night. For one of them, at the city’s recreational complex, it was the fourth attack in four weeks.
Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. have reached historic levels. The 1,879 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018 were the third-highest annual total since the Anti-Defamation League started tracking them in the 1970s.
Ventnor police said they are “very familiar” with the suspect in the attack on the menorah there. That could have encouraged them to discount the possibility that the attack intentionally targeted the religious symbol, or could have meant their past, thorough investigations of the suspect turned up nothing suggesting bias.
Neither much reassures the public.
Barely two weeks before the Ventnor incident, the state attorney general issued new guidelines for law enforcement to follow in handling bias complaints — including an expanded definition of bias incidents, and requiring police and prosecutors to offer timely and sensitive responses to victims and the community.
“Law enforcement must be prepared, from the moment a potential bias incident is reported, to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, while treating victims in a sensitive and supportive manner,” Gurbir Grewal said.
That’s what the Ventnor police should do in this case.