An Orthodox Christian priest and his followers attacked a public Chanukah menorah in Moldova's capital city on Monday, replacing it with a cross.
Anatoliy Chirbik led a group of about 100 singing supporters through a demonstration at Stefan the Great Square in Kishinev, during which they used hammers and iron bars to dismantle the five foot tall menorah, hastily erecting a huge cross in its place.
"We are an Orthodox country," Chirbik told the assembly. "Stephan the Great defended our country from all kinds of Zjids [deragotory term for Jews], and now they come and put their menorah here. This is anarchy."
Local Jewish leader Alexandr Bilinkis called on the Orthodox Church to denounce the priest's actions. The Moldovan government condemned the vandalism, saying the menorah was subsequently found, reinstalled, and is back in place under police protection.
In 1900, Jews made up approximately half of the population of Kishinev. Blood libels were raised as the Jewish population swelled, leading to two major pogroms in 1903 and 1905, causing an exodus of thousands of Jews.
Moldovian Jewry hit another peak immediately prior to World War II. During the war, 53,000 of Kishinev's 65,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Jewish life was then severely curtailed under the Soviet Union. Twenty years ago, there were 66,000 Jews in Moldova, but now there are approximately 12,000, with many Jews having emigrated to Israel.