A new lawsuit claims that the man who crafted what might be the most famous menorah in the world sexually abused a young girl dozens of times in the 1990s and that a rabbinical court failed to hold him accountable.
The survivor of this alleged abuse, now a 36-year-old woman living in Israel, is trying to get possession of her abuser’s brass menorah, which is normally displayed during Hanukkah at the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Brooklyn.
Her lawyer says that if she succeeds, she’d consider melting it down in a symbolic act against taboos that have kept cases like hers from being known.
The craftsman behind the 6-foot-tall menorah was Hirschel Pekkar. After he died in July, an obituary on a Chabad community news site described him as “a renowned Crown Heights silversmith who created the famous Menorah which stands each Chanukah in 770 Eastern Parkway,” referring to the address of the Hasidic movement’s headquarters.
Pekkar was commissioned to forge a special Hanukkah lamp in 1982, after Chabad’s leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said in a speech that the arms of the menorah were originally diagonal rather than curved, citing the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides. The lawsuit says that the impact of Pekkar’s menorah—thousands of similar pieces have been fashioned over the decades—makes it “one of the most important pieces of Jewish artwork of the 20th century.”
“We’re pursuing the menorah, because it’s so symbolic and because we want to play an active role in shaping that symbolism,” Susan Crumiller, the attorney who is representing the woman, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We hope it’s a transformative moment. We are doing this out of love for the community.”
Crumiller had initially planned to sue Pekkar under New York’s Child Victims Act, which created a two-year window to revive old abuse cases previously barred by the statute of limitations. But, then, on Aug. 5, just days ahead of the deadline, Pekkar died. Crumiller shifted her target and named Pekkar’s estate in a lawsuit filed Oct. 5. She tells JTA that the death extended the legal window to sue, meaning that the Aug. 14 deadline no longer applied.
No formal estate has been established for Pekkar by his heirs, and the responsibility for the estate is being addressed in a separate court case, according to Crumiller.
It’s also unclear who formally owns the menorah, though it has been treated as the communal property of the Chabad movement since it was commissioned. For now, Crumiller has asserted a lien on the menorah on behalf of her client, meaning that she has filed a public notice that her client is claiming it.