‘I don’t know if a sanctuary is a sanctuary anymore’: Brookline police, rabbi speak about menorah theft

The menorah was found damaged in West Roxbury early Wednesday morning and returned to the synagogue.

Brookline police dust for fingerprints.

Brookline police believe a 6-foot-tall, 300-pound menorah was stolen from Temple Emeth on Grove Street with the intention of it being sold for scrap metal.

But that doesn’t mean the Temple Emeth community, or the police, are taking the matter any more lightly.

“Based upon what was stolen, its weight, and the way it was removed from the ground, right now officers believe it may have been targeted as a theft for salvage,” Lt. Philip Harrington of Brookline police said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “It hasn’t closed the door on an investigation of a possible hate crime, but at this time we don’t have those elements.”

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Police believe the menorah was broken while thieves attempted to dislodge it from where it was at the synagogue and that it may have fallen out of the back of a vehicle and landed at the intersection of Church and Weld streets in West Roxbury, where Boston police found it around 6 a.m. Wednesday, Harrington said.

Patrols arounds synagogues will continue, he added.

“You know this town has a very diverse population,” Harrington said. “We are very aware of what’s going on in the country. In light of this particular incident, we don’t want to cause any panic, but we are taking it very serious.”

Rabbi Alan Turetz, who has led Temple Emeth since 1977, said he hopes it wasn’t a hate crime, noting that there weren’t any anti-Semitic symbols or phrases left at the synagogue and nothing else was taken or damaged.

“The menorah, as I’ve told many of you, is biblical,” he told reporters during the press conference. “It’s one of the hallmarks and symbols of the state of Israel, and it’s also emblematic of the Jewish people. It’s desirable to have light, which is spiritual, and to cast light upon others, which is essential to Jewish theology and our beliefs and the belief of this temple, which embraces people of all faiths and welcomes them in worship and in fellowship.”

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While he noted that the incident “appears to be an economic crime,” Turetz said the synagogue will continue to try to protect itself.

“We all know the news, and I don’t know if a sanctuary is a sanctuary anymore,” he said. “Sanctuary is quintessential of something that protects you.”

Turetz had no sympathy for whomever committed the act.

“I would say, instead of saying, ‘Gee, sorry you’re that desperate,’ I would say, ‘Shame on you for ripping something like that out of its roots and defacing something that is that sacred to many people, not just the Jewish people.’ Forgiveness is not at this point a large part of my theology when it comes to people doing something like that. We are forgiving people, but for the right reasons.”

Watch the full press conference: