Hanukkah brings a new and stronger menorah to SDSU's Chabad House
The Jewish Festival of Lights begins at sunset on Thursday. This year, Hanukkah takes on a deeper meaning in the shadow of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and acts of antisemitism.
A new 22-foot 1,500-pound menorah made with a thick skin of quarter-inch steel now hovers over the Chabad House, a home away from home and safe space for thousands of Jewish students at San Diego State University. It's stronger than the original menorah that was destroyed last March in what police called a hate crime of vandalism. A security camera on site caught the suspect, but police have been unable to arrest anyone so far.
“I think tearing down any religious symbol is personal to me … especially what happened with the murder at Chabad of Poway," said Barry Soper, a San Diego author currently writing a book about the mass shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway during Passover in 2019. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three others were injured by a gunman who later pleaded guilty to the hate crime.
When Soper saw the vandalism of the menorah at Chabad House, he launched the effort to replace it. The new menorah has a base that its designer hopes will make it harder to damage.
“Pyramids are hard to climb," said Josh Soper, the son of Barry Soper — and the engineer who designed the new menorah.
The younger Soper has worked on defense weapons and many of the amusement rides at Universal Studios in Orlando. He grew up in San Diego with no connection to SDSU. But he said the antisemitic vandalism was personal, and he was compelled to design the replacement.
“We thought it was just replacing a menorah, and the more we did it, it just started becoming more and more fantastic! When you see something on paper, it never really represents what the end goal is going to be until you see it," Josh said.
The replacement menorah and landscaping improvements at Chabad House are being funded by private donations. Donations can be made directly to Chabad House.
“I hope that whether you are Jewish or Palestinian, life gets better. That we will not get involved in antisemitism or hate. That we really care about each other," Barry said.