A menorah commemorating Hanukkah was stolen from Red Square by at least two freshmen and taken to Harbin Hall before being recovered by Department of Public Safety officers early Saturday morning.
This marks the fourth incident of removal or vandalism of Jewish religious symbols at Georgetown since 1998.
Witnesses said that Patty Carroll (COL ’08) and Sean Bailey (MSB ’08) were apprehended with the menorah Saturday morning by DPS officers in the Harbin Hall lobby. They were taken into custody before being released. A third suspect Neill Bassi (MSB ’08) was later questioned by DPS officers and released.
According to Bassi, the students are being charged with harassment, a category B violation of the student code of conduct.
If found responsible, they could face sanctions ranging from housing probation to disciplinary suspension. It is unclear if any of the students will face criminal charges.
DPS officials did not return phone calls seeking comment on onday or Tuesday. Jewish Student Association President Ben Bixby (SFS ’05) said that university officials were hesitant to release details of the incident to him.
Bixby said that officials had told him a witness contacted DPS as the theft was in progress and the incident may also have been captured on a DPS video camera. He also said that alcohol may have played a part in the incident.
According to Bixby, a light bulb on the menorah was broken during the incident.
Carroll and Bailey admitted playing a part in the theft in interviews Monday, calling the incident a “prank” gone wrong. None of the students admitted to being intoxicated and Bassi denied a role in the removal of the menorah.
Bailey said that he had thought it would be funny to play a practical joke on his friend.
“We were going to just put the menorah in his room and return it that night,” he said. “It was a poorly selected practical joke and insensitive as well. I didn’t mean any malicious intent towards anyone.”
Carroll said she wanted to apologize to the university community and said the incident was “nothing hateful towards anyone.”
“I may not have shown it on Friday, but I have the deepest respect towards the Jewish community here and throughout the world,” she added. “It was a stupid prank that got out of hand and I’m terribly sorry.”
Bassi said he and Carroll had met Bailey in front of Harbin before continuing to Red Square. When they arrived at Red Square he said he received a phone call. When he turned around, the menorah was gone, he said.
According to Bassi, he continued to Healy Gates to meet a friend and was later implicated in the incident when Carroll and Bailey were questioned by DPS.
“I was not involved in taking the menorah,” Bassi said, adding that he did not see Bailey or Carroll remove the menorah.
Friends of the students said that they were sure the incident was not meant to be hateful.
“It was just a practical joke and they thought it would be funny if they took the menorah and put it in a friend’s room as a joke for him,” one of Bailey’s friends, Scott Kahoe (MSB ’08) said.
In an emergency meeting at the JSA House on Sunday afternoon, JSA members expressed outrage and called for a full investigation.
Bixby called the incident “disrespectful” and said that the university and Jewish community should take immediate steps to keep similar incidents from happening again.
“This is an issue for everyone,” he said. “I want to know how many times we have seen rallies against racism on this campus and how many times we’ve just had to plan another one.”
Julia Stein (COL ’06) said that the main issue was that people had stolen something with religious symbolism.
“No matter what faith you are you just don’t do this to a religious symbol,” she said.
But meeting attendees stopped short of calling the incident anti-Semitic. They said that more investigation had to be conducted to determine the motivations of the students involved in the incident.
Senior Jewish Chaplain Harold White said that the “university is in denial to the extent of alcohol abuse occurring on this campus.”
In a broadcast e-mail sent to the university community Monday afternoon, Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs, and the Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry, called the incident “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
The e-mail invited the community to a ceremony in Red Square Tuesday evening to “rededicate the menorah and rededicate ourselves to honoring fully the diversity that is so integral to our mission and identity.”
DPS returned the menorah to JSA members Sunday evening but a missing extension cord made it impossible to light the menorah as originally planned. Instead students sang songs and held a small ceremonial lighting of candles.
By Monday, the menorah, now guarded around the clock by DPS officers, had been relit. It is owned by Chabad, a Jewish religious organization.
In Dec. 1998 vandals cut wires leading from a menorah to a power outlet. On Dec. 4, 1999, students smashed a menorah’s light bulbs and bent its pole out of shape. Just seven days later, a student allegedly threw a menorah to the ground. An MSB sophomore, ichael Byrne, withdrew from Georgetown following that incident.
– HOYA Staff Writer Vidhya Murugesan contributed to this report.