Illini Chabad Menorah damaged early Sunday

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Members of the University’s Jewish community expressed disappointment and frustration early this week after the Menorah outside of the Illini Chabad Center for Jewish Life was damaged for the third time since April.

Early Sunday morning, two students were seen in surveillance camera footage attempting to unscrew the lights on the nearly 9-foot tall structure and consequentially broke one of the arms on the Menorah. The center is located just off campus at 509 S. 4th St.

The University of Illinois Police Department identified the offenders Monday and reported early Tuesday that Ruby Fernandez-Rivera, a 21-year-old junior at the University was arrested on the charge of criminal damage to property. Fernandez-Rivera was issued a state of Illinois notice to appear in court later in February.

Fernandez-Rivera, a member of the Illinois softball team, told investigators she didn’t intend to break the arm of the Menorah and offered to apologize to the center’s Rabbi personally.

Fernandez-Rivera, a shortstop, started in all 48 games she played in last season. She hit .324 with eight home runs, 32 RBIs and missed five games due to a concussion.

The softball team starts its season Friday in Miami, Florida, against LIU Brooklyn.

The University Division of Intercollegiate addressed the issue in a press release from interim athletic director Paul Kowalcyzk on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are disappointed by the actions early Sunday morning of two student-athletes from softball and men’s gymnastics at the Chabad Jewish Center on campus and apologize for this unacceptable behavior,” Kowalczyk said. “Both student-athletes have sent letters of apology to the Center. Ruby Rivera, who was given a state notice to appear in court, has been suspended indefinitely from competition with the softball team.

“The male gymnast, who was present but not charged in this case, has been suspended from the next two competitions: a dual meet against Minnesota and the Winter Cup. They will both be required to complete community service hours as part of an internal disciplinary action. I’ve spoken to the student-athletes and to staff at the Center, and made it very clear that this behavior falls far short of the high expectations we hold for everyone who represents the University of Illinois.”

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel said there are two costs from the incident, “the financial cost and the emotional cost.”

“The financial cost being assessing how much this will cost, this menorah was just put up. The emotional cost being the pain for students and alumni across campus who had their security violated,” Tiechtel said. “In the four years students spend here learning about other cultures and understanding each other it just hurts that they would do this to someone’s property.”

Tiechtel said this incident isn’t just “about the menorah, it’s not just about breaking the branch, it’s about an attack on a community.”

At the start of the school year, a 20-year-old Parkland College student was charged with a Class 4 felony for damaging the menorah. The offender, Max Kristy, was caught on a Chabad surveillance camera attempting to knock the Menorah over.

Kristy broke the Menorah at its base, causing almost $3,000 in damage. Kirsty arrested following an anonymous tip and the initiation of a UIPD investigation. He was issued a state of Illinois notice to appear.

Following damages caused by a similar act of vandalism that took place in April, Illini Chabad has created an Illini Menorah Rededication Fund. The Menorah was rededicated on Dec. 7.

Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.

[email protected]