(KUTV) During an eight-day Jewish festival that celebrates religious freedom, Rabbi Benny Zippel never expected to wake up to police telling him the six-foot menorah at his Jewish center in Sugar House had been vandalized, but that's exactly how his fourth day of Chanukah began.
"We've been placing every year on the holiday of Chanukah a menorah in front of our location as a symbol of religious freedom, as a symbol of freedom of good over evil, of acceptance over mutual intolerance and bigotry," Rabbi Zippel said. "It is deplorable to see such acts of vandalism and insensitivity in a country like the United States of America, which is a country that is built on mutual tolerance, mutual acceptance and mutual respect."
Salt Lake City police, around 2:30 a.m., called Rabbi Zippel, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, to tell him the symbol of the Festival of Lights had been broken. He went to the center at 1760 South 1100 East, where he had been shortly after 11 p.m., to see the damage for himself.
"Three of the eight arms of the menorah had been detached, the wires had been ripped and the arms of the menorah were on the floor right next to it," Rabbi Zippel said. "I don’t think we were targeted. I really don't believe so. There were no swastikas, there were no threats. I think it is just an act of insensitive young people who were probably drinking or partying at one o'clock in the morning, looking for some thrill, and they just found something to do with themselves."
Zippel, however, left the menorah in pieces, to be fixed within the week, and led Chanuhak on Ice, two hours of ice skating free for members of the Jewish community at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday afternoon. The event culminated in a ceremony during which Rabbi Zippel lit Utah's largest menorah.
"I think it's all about religious freedom and people just getting along, coming together as a community and doing what's right for another. It's unfortunate that people don’t have better things to do," said Joel Stevenette, who brought his family to Sunday's event. "It's not about the offenders, it's about the community... I'm sure they’ll be held accountable, but, you know, it's all about the spirit and what we're doing today."
"It's horrible that people would want to do that, but I know that God is with us," said Stacy Kaplan, who brought her 11-year-old daughter to ice skate, "and so whatever is meant to be will be, and good will come out of it."
Zippel himself said his job is to dispel darkness and keep his community from focusing on such negativity.
"In the chabad philosophy, we never like to dwell on the negative aspect of things," Rabbi Zippel said. "We are determined to build to make this Chanukah 2013 an even brighter and more joyous one."
In fact, the word, "Lubavitch," derived from the Russian town, means "town of love," Rabbi Zippel said, determined to focus on community and love.