Members of the public in Islington, local religious and political leaders gathered to hold a re-lighting ceremony of a public chanukiah on Thursday, hours after it had been vandalised and strewn across the park.
Among those present for the ceremony included Islington South MP, Emily Thornberry, Islington Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz, Jeremy Corbyn MP, local faith leaders and community members.
Rabbi Mendy Korer of Islington Chabad told the JC that at around 9:30am on Thursday, locals witnessed the chanukiah, which is erected annually by Chabad Islington on Islington Green, being destroyed. At least one member of the public attempted to chase the perpetrator away and then called the police.
Rabbi Korer said: “Police and Islington Council were quick to come to the scene, as well as our local MP, Emily Thornberry. Once the police forensics team completed fingerprint checks and statements were provided by witnesses, the [Islington] council’s lighting department set about repairing the menorah, of which the electronics and wiring had all been quite badly damaged, in addition to the actual frame.”
I’m sorry to share that the Menorah on Islington Green has been severely damaged. The ugly face of hate.— Mendy Korer (@ChabadIslington) December 14, 2023
I guess not everyone enjoys light and joy.
Talking now to @IslingtonBC and @MPSIslington pic.twitter.com/QGsNNYFUzs
The Met police has confirmed the damage appeared to be deliberate and that an investigation into the vandalism has been opened, with no arrests yet made.
During the re-lighting ceremony, Korer, who has been rabbi of Islington’s only synagogue for 12 years, said: “Today we stand here, at the place where only 4 days ago we celebrated the lighting of the menorah with 700 people from diverse backgrounds coming together with warmth and energy,
“What happened this morning is that one cowardly, misguided person vandalised this menorah. I am happy and grateful to say such a thing is unheard of in the 12 years the Chanukah menorah has stood in place.”
Attendees and Rabbi Mendy Korer ahead of the re-lighting ceremony, December 14, 2023 (Credit: Islington Chabad)
Rabbi Korer went on to thank the “ordinary people, people who we had not known or met before and happened to be in Isling Green at the time, who stood up when they saw this ugly act in front of them and chased the perpetrator away.”
Upon becoming aware of the vandalism and proposed re-lighting ceremony later that day, MP for Islington South and former shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, took to social media to encourage local attendance.
Come and support the Islington Jewish community tonight 🕎 pic.twitter.com/G6rBRamfZa— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) December 14, 2023
Thornberry told the JC: “I was really shaken up and upset to see what had happened. Upon arriving, I saw the chanukiah, which had really been securely put in place and was a substantial bit of kit, strewn across the green. It had taken a great deal of effort to smash it the way it had been, with one part of it on one side of the green and another part found on the other, lights smashed about the place.”
Thornberry spent some of the day handing out invitation flyers to the re-lighting ceremony to passers-by in her constituency.
She said: “Though originally, they thought we were selling something, I was sure that if people only knew what we were doing they would come, because that’s the Islington I know.
“The attack on the menorah was Islington at its worst, whereas the ceremony and the fact that locals chased the culprit after they witnessed the attack is Islington at its best, and an example to the world.”
MP for Islington South, Emily Thornberry, speaks to those gathered for the re-lighting of the chanukiah ceremony, December 14, 2023 (Credit: Chabad Islington)
Also in attendance Thursday was Islington Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz who told the JC that while the attack on the menorah was “deeply upsetting”, Islington “won’t be cowed by extremists.”
She said: “The re-lighting of the menorah showed Islington at its best: heart-warming, community-minded and full of light and joy.
“It was a pleasure to speak alongside Emily Thornbury MP, and to be joined by my fellow councillors, local people and representatives from different faiths and cultures come together to stand against hate and celebrate Chanukah.”
Members of the community, including Islington Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz and Emily Thornberry MP, December 14, 2023 (Credit: Chabad Islington)
A representative was also sent to the ceremony by Finsbury Park Mosque. In a statement to the JC, they said their presence was to “send a clear message that we are all united against hate, whether it is antisemitism or Islamophobia, faith communities should be able to express and celebrate their belief freely and safely.
“We hope that the perpetrator who did that will be brought to justice.”
The re-lighting ceremony concluded with attendees singing “Am Yisrael Chai”.
AM YISRAEL CHAI!— Mendy Korer (@ChabadIslington) December 14, 2023
Thank you everyone for coming out this evening to rekindle the Islington Menorah.
‘What matters now most is what each and every one of us are going to do about making the world more beautiful and kind’ pic.twitter.com/N2aAIOD2GM
The police are currently appealing for witnesses. Anyone with information about the vandalism of the Chabad Islington chanukiah is asked to contact police on 101 quoting CAD 2415/14DEC23.
Another public chanukiah was also torn down the same day, on the sixth day of Chanukah, in West Hampstead.