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Arizona Police Arrest Suspects for Twisting Local Menorah Into a Swastika

Both the communal and law enforcement responses to the crime offered an encouraging example for countering acts of anti-Semitism

Miranda Cooper
March 20, 2017
Naomi Ellis
Naomi Ellis
Naomi Ellis
Naomi Ellis

The beginning of the story is a familiar one: Jewish kids want some festive lights just like their neighbors and ask their parents why they can’t also light up their yard during the holiday season.

It was in response to such pleas that Seth and Naomi Ellis of Chandler, Arizona, decided to build—out of PVC pipe, metallic gold paint, and solar bulbs—a seven-foot-tall DIY menorah for their three young sons. It stood tall on their lawn for most of the holiday. But after the sixth night of Hanukkah, this endearing story took an ugly turn.

The family woke to find their festive decoration vandalized in the most offensive of ways: twisted into a swastika. The Ellis boys had never seen a swastika before. Thus, they learned an awful lesson too soon: “This is the real reality that we live in: People hate us for no reason or want us to feel scared for who we are. That’s not something I wanted to have to tell them,” Naomi Ellis told the Washington Post.

Both the community and law enforcement responded with empathy and vigilance. After the Ellises reported the incident to the police, officers helped dismantle the swastika. Seth Ellis then rebuilt the menorah. In a moving gesture, congregants of Temple Emanuel, the Reform synagogue of which the Ellises are members, went to the Ellis’s house to light it again as a community.

Last night vandals disgraced a menorah in West #ChandlerAZ. Tonight the community gathers to light it again

— ChandlerBlvd (@chandlerblvd) December 31, 2016

Over the weekend, police arrested four young men for the vandalism.

@ChandlerPolice arrest 4 suspects in 2016 Aggravated Criminal Damage case. One adult & 3 juveniles.

— Chandler Police (@ChandlerPolice) March 17, 2017

Clive Jamar Wilson, 19, and three teenagers whose names are confidential due to their status as minors will all face charges of trespassing and aggravated criminal damage. The minors will be tried in a juvenile court.

Thus far, law enforcement has treated this anti-Semitic act as a disorderly conduct incident. They are still investigating whether to treat it is a hate crime.

Miranda Cooper is an editorial intern at Tablet. Follow her on Twitter here.