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'Good as Strong as Evil'

December 29, 2005 By:
Jordana Jacobs and Bryan Schwartzman
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Damage in Rittenhouse Square

At a time when peace and generosity are the hallmarks of the season, a local community was put to the test when the opposite occurred.

After a menorah, part of a holiday display in Cianfrani Park on Eighth and Fitzwater streets in South Philadelphia, was torn down and destroyed Dec. 19, the Bella Vista United Civic Association acted quickly to erect a new one the following day.

"This new one is 5 feet - higher and brighter than the other," said Vern Anastasio, director of the neighborhood group. "We vowed if they tear this one down, we'll put another up. We will do it until we wear them out - if they dare try it again."

Known as a predominately Italian neighborhood, Bella Vista - encompassed by South and Washington streets, and between Sixth and 11th streets - has, like other areas near the city's center, seen a growing number of Jewish residents move in.

The original 4-foot menorah stood atop a 10-foot pole, and was erected next to a Christmas tree in a Dec. 12 ceremony that drew 250 to 300 people. The Christmas tree was left untouched.

After a woman walking her dog discovered the menorah's remains - essentially, a trampled wire mess - the civic association dipped into its savings to quickly purchase a new one.

The local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League lauded the group for its quick response to "ugly anti-Semitism."

Anastasio said he worked to have police classify the act as a hate crime, which carries a punishment that's harsher than most.

"An act of a coward made us all Jewish in Bella Vista, and we're all going to be Jewish until it comes down," said Anastasio. "Good is just as strong as evil."

Vandals seemed to have struck again Dec. 27, this time against a menorah in Rittenhouse Square, which was found badly damaged, with bulbs shattered and branches broken.

But Capt. Benjamin Naish of the Philadelphia Police Department said detectives determined that rough winds had toppled the 8-foot-high symbol some time after midnight on Dec. 27.

"We are very glad to hear that it was nature that did this," said Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of the Lubavitch Center of Philadelphia, which put up the menorah.

Police, he added, were helping transport the battered item to a welder in South Philly for repairs before the end of Chanukah.

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