The Georgetown University student who was suspended in December after pushing over a campus menorah has withdrawn from the university and will not face disciplinary action.
Michael T. Byrne, 20, of Garden Park, N.Y, said in a letter faxed to The Washington Post yesterday that he is "deeply sorry for the wrong I have done" and intends to make amends in ways suggested by the menorah's owner.
"While I do not want alcohol to excuse my actions, I do believe that it was the cause of them," wrote Byrne, who has denied he damaged the menorah out of antisemitism. The religious symbol was put up by the university's Jewish Student Association to mark Hanukah.
Byrne, who said he has entered an alcohol rehabilitation program to overcome a drinking problem, still faces a misdemeanor destruction-of-property charge because of $35 in damages to the menorah's electric bulbs. At his recent arraignment in D.C. Superior Court, he indicated that he intends to plead guilty.
The owner of the menorah, Orthodox Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of the American Friends of Lubavitch, said he was asked to meet Byrne and that he proposed that Byrne atone for his actions by standing vigil at a menorah, writing a public apology to local newspapers, paying for the damage, attending a sensitivity-training program and writing a paper on religious tolerance.
"We can't let this go by," Shemtov said. "On the other hand, we've got to meter out punishment that fits the crime and also has some positive value. I want to punish him but not excessively."
Byrne, who was in his sophomore year, said in his letter that he hopes his withdrawal from Georgetown "will speed the healing process and allow the community to put my shameful act behind it." His was the second attack on the eight-foot menorah. No one has been arrested in the earlier incident, which Byrne denies participating in.
Byrne's attorney, Stephen Grafman, said his client "is genuinely sorry for what happened. It was a dumb, stupid thing he did and he wants to make atonement."
Grafman added, "I am Jewish myself, and I am absolutely convinced that this incident was not motivated by antisemitism."
Dean of Students James Donahue accepted Byrne's withdrawal, "subject to the condition that he not return to Georgetown University in the future," he said. "As a result, no further student disciplinary action in this matter is required."
CAPTION: Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the menorah owner, guided efforts at atonement.