Oakland police investigate destruction of Lake Merritt menorah, anti-Semitic graffiti as a hate crime

Police in Oakland are investigating a destructive act of vandalism at a large public menorah at Lake Merritt that left the Hanukkah candelabrum in pieces and hateful anti-Semitic graffiti where the menorah stood.

The desecration of the menorah happened Tuesday night, according to a spokesperson for the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Bay Area. Photos and video provided by the organization showed the menorah was completely dismantled with pieces strewn around the area where it had been erected by Lake Merritt. There was also profane, anti-Semitic graffiti written on the stand where the menorah had stood.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao released a statement regarding the vandalism Wednesday morning, noting that she had been invited to participate in the lighting of the menorah by Rabbi Dovid Labkowski just this past weekend.

“The Lake Merritt Menorah is a long-standing and important symbol for Oakland’s Jewish community and it breaks my heart that it was vandalized,” the statement read.

Thao said that she has asked interim Oakland Police Department chief Darren Allison to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

“I want to be very clear that what happened was not just an attack on Oakland’s Jewish community but our entire city and our shared values. We stand together against hate, against antisemitism and against bigotry in any form,” the statement said. “And when someone commits such a crime, they are attacking the foundation of our City.”

Thao also said that her office was in close contact with both police and Rabbi Labkowski and would work with them “to hold those responsible accountable and support our fellow Oaklanders.”

California state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) condemned the destruction of the menorah at Oakland’s Lake Merritt in a statement Wednesday.

“The destruction of the menorah at Lake Merritt and the accompanying hateful graffiti is an outrage and an act of cowardice. The menorah at Lake Merritt is a longstanding symbol and celebration of our East Bay Jewish community. Destroying a symbol of hope and light is a despicable act and is especially hurtful on this sixth day of Hanukkah. I stand against all acts of hate, antisemitism, and bigotry, and applaud Mayor Thao’s request that Oakland’s chief of police investigate this incident as a hate crime.”

JCRC Bay Area CEO Tyler Gregory also released a statement about the vandalism.

“The malicious destruction of a public menorah in Lake Merritt, Oakland, accompanied by hateful graffiti, is just the latest example of rampant antisemitism tearing apart the Bay Area. This is devastating to the local Jewish community, which lights Hanukkah menorahs as a public celebration of this holiday commemorating Jewish survival. There’s no room for debate; this vicious act unequivocally deserves condemnation. Jews in this country should not have to live in fear.”

Oakland has been a flash point for controversy regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict ever since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Last week, an Oakland coffee shop became the center of controversy after video of the confrontation with the customer was widely shared on social media.

According to the statement issued by a group of former and current baristas at Farley’s East where the confrontation took place, six workers are no longer working at the location

Three of the workers involved in the confrontation were fired and an additional three employees quit following the incident, the statement said. It also attributed the firings and subsequent resignations to “the unwillingness and refusal of both Farley’s East owners’ (Chris and Amy Hillyard) to protect their longtime staff after a right wing doxxing campaign targeted our fellow coworkers with violence and hatred.”

ALSO READ: Some Oakland Unified parents voice concerns ahead of pro-Palestinian “teach-in”

There has also been outrage over last week’s teach-in held by some members of the Oakland Educators Association that focused on Palestinian resistance and liberation. The material is not affiliated with the school district and the superintendent said in a letter to parents this week that the teach-in was not authorized by OUSD. The lessons do not align with the guidance and materials previously provided by the chief academic officer, the superintendent added.   

Late last month, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza after hours of fiery public comment. 

But unlike Richmond’s inflammatory resolution in October that pointed the finger at Israel, accusing it of an “ethnic cleansing campaign,” Oakland’s statement recognizes the losses on both sides without really taking a side.  

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