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Vandals turned a Jewish family’s menorah into a swastika

The Ellis family’s home at the beginning of Hanukkah, left, and early Friday morning when the menorah was vandalized, right. (Courtesy of Naomi Ellis)

When Naomi and Seth Ellis’s young sons said that they wanted lights on their house in Chandler, Ariz., like all their neighbors’ Christmas decorations, the parents knew what to tell their three Jewish boys: Yes.

One trip to Lowe’s, $100 worth of PVC pipe, nine solar-powered lights and a coat of shiny gold paint later, the Ellises had a shining 7-foot-tall Hanukkah menorah on their lawn.

But on Friday morning, the Ellises had something new to tell their boys, and they weren’t sure how to say it.

After the boys went to bed on the sixth night of Hanukkah, someone dismantled their special menorah and turned it into a giant swastika.

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“We talk a lot about the importance of equality and tolerance, loving everybody no matter what,” Naomi Ellis said. “I had to tell them that not everybody feels that way. Some people are ignorant, and this is what they do.”

She watched tears well up in her 9-year-old son’s eyes as she explained.

“They know about the Holocaust. They know about Nazis,” she said. But before Friday morning, the three children — ages 5, 7 and 9 — had never before seen a swastika, the symbol of the Nazi party that carried out the murder of 6 million Jews and of current-day hate groups.

“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 said.

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Seth Ellis, who works in construction, got up Friday morning at 4 a.m. as usual, and saw that while the family was sleeping, the menorah’s joints had been unscrewed and locked back in place in the spidery directions of a swastika. The vandal or vandals had taken some of the pieces entirely. The Ellises called the police.

Chandler Police Det. Seth Tyler said that officers came to the house and spoke to Naomi Ellis. “She obviously didn’t want her children to see a swastika on their yard,” Tyler said. So the officers helped take the structure down.

The officers reported the vandalism as an incident of disorderly conduct and have not arrested anyone, Tyler said. Naomi Ellis has been urging her neighbors to share anything they might have seen with police.

Friday night, Naomi Ellis said, her husband will build the menorah again. The rabbi at Temple Emanuel, the Reform Jewish synagogue in Tempe that the family belongs to, told her that the community could come to her home to ceremonially relight the rebuilt menorah together.

That would be in keeping with the story behind the holiday of Hanukkah: When the temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by the army of Antiochus, Jews rebelled, reclaimed their holiest space and rekindled the light inside. The word Hanukkah means “rededication” — just what the Ellis family and their Arizona community will now do.

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