It was hard to miss the Robin family’s menorah on the front lawn of their Germantown home: Made of PVC tubing, it stood five-feet tall with light displays determined by a programmed chip inside.
With Chanukah in November, the menorah went up early this year, and stayed up through the hectic days before daughter Rachel’s bat mitzvah on Dec. 21.
Then on Christmas eve, the menorah was stolen. The next day it turned up on a front lawn about two miles from the family’s house, along with a letter, presumably from the thief — and cash.
By then, Nelson and Ellen Robin had called the police. At press time there had been no arrest. Police are investigating vandalism as a hate crime and are not releasing the content of the note or the amount of money that accompanied it.
“It’s being looked at as a hate crime if the victim thinks it was,” said Montgomery County Police spokesperson Angela Cruz.
Word of the incident reached the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, interfaith community liaison for the office of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett. He contacted the family to offer his sympathy and on Dec. 30, he and a group of interfaith leaders met with the Robins at their home to talk about the incident and lend their support.
Such attacks cause anxiety, “and we wanted to address it in ways that would be empowering to the family,” he said.
The nine-person group included members of the Muslim and Buddhist communities and representatives of several Christian denominations. Each is a member of the county’s Clergy Response Team, which is on call around the clock in case of “any act of hate or violence in Montgomery County,” Kaseman said.
“Our concern is that this happens more frequently than people realize. We know that when these things happen, we can become more introverted. This family stepped forward and reported it.”
Police aren’t saying what was written in the note or how much cash was attached to it. When the broken menorah reappeared on the lawn two miles away, it was accompanied by a nativity scene that had also been vandalized. Kaseman said that a Frosty the Snowman lawn decoration had been vandalized around the same time.
“People ask if I’m taking this too seriously,” Kaseman said. “I say no. What I’m responding to is the feeling of the family.”
“It’s likely a prank,” Ellen Robin said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s right. So there has to be some consequence.”
Rabbi Sholom Raichik of Chabad of Upper Montgomery County in Gaithersburg was a member of the response team that visited with the Robins.
“It’s a strange story in many, many ways,” he said. “The bottom line is, no one likes to get their property violated.”