3 Miami students charged after damaging Jewish religious structure

Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 2:53 PM EDT
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OXFORD, Ohio (WXIX) - Three students are charged with vandalism after damaging a Jewish religious structure called a Sukkah outside the Hillel building at Miami University on Oct. 15, Oxford police say.

Hillel is a Jewish campus organization that is located on Walnut Street a block west of Campus Avenue and a block south of High Street.

Police say the surveillance video from early that morning shows the students entering the backyard at Hillel, looking at the Sukkah and pushing it over before running away.

The suspects came forward and admitted their actions, according to a news release from the Oxford Police Department.

Police say their investigation determined there was no religious bias involved with the crime.

“While the suspects in this case did not understand that they were damaging a religious symbol, the effects were felt by the Jewish community,” the news release said.

Police say 20-year-old Kevin Ladriere, 20-year-old Eli Lauger, and 19-year-old Santiago Arenas, are charged with vandalism, which is a felony due to the total cost of the damage, which exceeded $1,000.

Hillel posted their surveillance video of the incident to social media.

It is with a heavy heart that I write to share an update about a very upsetting incident that occurred at Hillel at Miami University this past weekend. At around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, three young men hopped our Hillel’s fence and intentionally threw our Sukkah to the ground. The incident was captured by our security cameras, and is currently being reviewed by the Oxford Police Department with the goal of identifying the perpetrators. The desecration and vandalization of this ritual item and the damage done to our Sukkah is distressing enough. While (thankfully) we have an extra Sukkah, what has shaken our students and staff to the core and left me with a pit at the bottom of my stomach is the complete violation of our property, and of our sacred space. Watching these three young men circle the Sukkah, enter the Sukkah (where they encountered Hebrew prayers on the walls), and then intentionally decide to destroy the Sukkah is simply devastating to watch. There is no other word. While we don’t yet know the motivation or the individuals involved, we will do everything in our power to work with the administration and local law enforcement to identify the perpetrators. We have filed a report with the Oxford Police Department, who is reviewing the security footage and investigating the incident. We have also filed an incident report with the regional office of the ADL Cleveland, and spoken with President Crawford’s office directly to alert the administration about this act of vandalism. I am attaching pictures of the perpetrators to this letter and will be posting them on our social media as well. If you have any knowledge of who these three are, please reach out to the Hillel at Miami office (513) 523-5190 or to the Oxford Police Department at (513) 524-5240. To our students: Know that we are here for you, 24/7. If you need a place to decompress, discuss what has occurred, or just relax and have someone to talk to, our doors are open. Our Sukkah may be broken. But our spirit is anything but. As upsetting as this incident has been, I feel so uplifted by the wonderful students and staff who have pride in our Jewish community, in our university, and in our Hillel – and no one and no act of vandalism can take that away. Love & Honor, Whitney Fisch, MSW Executive Director Hillel at Miami

Posted by Hillel: Miami University on Friday, October 21, 2022

Hillel Executive Director Whitney Fisch in a written statement said the suspects violated a “sacred space” and called the experience “devastating.”

Miami University President Gregory Crawford wrote a letter to students dated Oct. 21 which said, in part, “Many Miami community members, particularly Jewish community members, may be understandably distressed and feel unsafe after learning about this incident. We are committed to every Jewish student, faculty, and staff feeling welcome and included as part of the Miami community.”

A Sukkah is a temporary structure constructed for use during the week-long Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. The festival, according to Jewish religious texts, commemorates God providing for the Israelites in the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.

Sukkahs are traditionally made of wood and cloth sometimes adorned with branches and other autumnal decorations.

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