Members of Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City say the temple was the target of a hate crime after a menorah and Holocaust memorial were damaged. Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/azcentral.com

PHOENIX — Congregants at a Jewish synagogue in Sun City received an outpouring of community support this week after vandals attacked a Holocaust memorial and menorah on the first night of Hanukkah.

“It was just very shocking,” said Irene Smith, president of Temple Beth Shalom. “To think they would desecrate the Holocaust memorial. It’s very hurtful … We have people who are survivors, and it’s very painful for them.”

A menorah is a display of nine candles illuminated consecutively during the Jewish religious festival known as Hanukkah, which this year began on Christmas Eve. Smith said tire tracks indicate trespassers drove a truck across synagogue property on North 101st Avenue sometime late Friday or early Saturday, then twisted two of the menorah’s arms and its metal foundation.

“It looks like they rammed it with a truck, and when it didn’t give … they wrapped a rope or chain and tried to drag it,” said Rabbi Sheldon Moss.

The intruders also removed fencing around the Holocaust memorial and damaged metallic flames marked with the names of concentration camps operated by the Nazis during World War II.

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The Beth Shalom menorah stands nearly 10 feet tall and is partially made of copper, which is a target of recycling thieves.

Maricopa County sheriff’s officials on Tuesday said in the absence of additional evidence they were not investigating the vandalism as an anti-Semitic attack. They did not respond to additional information requests on Wednesday.

Smith said synagogue leaders believe the vandalism was a hate crime because perpetrators targeted iconic Jewish symbols at the beginning of religious holy days.

She said the vandals did not leave a message, and no threats were received before the vandalism. However, in separate incidents during the past month, a menorah light was broken and a surveillance video camera was taken. Smith said the camera had been replaced before the vandalism, but the images had not yet been reviewed because of technical issues.

“We hope there’s something on the video,” she said.

Smith said a Temple Beth Shalom service Tuesday evening turned into an interfaith gathering as non-Jewish members of the community showed up to condemn the criminal act and join in prayer.

Rabbi Sheldon Moss surveys a basketball hoop, which was damaged along with a menorah and Holocaust memorial. (Photo: Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/The Republic)

“People from the community have been very, very supportive,” she said. “We’ve had wonderful offers of help from professionals” to repair the monuments, she added.

Among those offering condolences was Imraan Siddiqi, executive director for Arizona’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and hope to see those responsible for this crime brought to justice,” Siddiqi said in a Facebook post.

Smith said the memorial and menorah had been on display about 40 years without incident. A GoFundMe account has been established to help the temple cover repair expenses.

Follow Dennis Wagner on Twitter: @azrover

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