"It’s only politics and things will calm down," said Rabbi Zalman Abelsky, the manager of the Chabad kindergarten in the city. "This was only an attempt to create some noise."
Talking to Ynet, Abelsky added that "this is not a conventional thing, but one must understand that there is a lot of politics involved. There were elections here several months ago, and the parties still don't get along.
"The relations between the ruling party and the opposition parties are not good, and some of the Jews who were present in the candle lighting event belong to the previous party. This is the root of things here. They are creating provocations against each other."
The rabbi, who has been living in the eastern European country for many years, expressed his surprise over the incident and said that anti-Semitic phenomena in Moldova were not common.
"Ever since I've been in Moldova, nothing of the kind has happened. There is no anti-Semitism here. On the contrary, Moldova can set an example to the entire world on this issue, and suddenly something like this happens. The authorities here will make sure that this never happens again. We are continuing the holiday celebrations," he said.
Moldova's Jewish community includes some 12,000 members. About 66,000 Jews lived in Moldova some 20 years ago, but most of them immigrated to Israel.
Menorah replaced with cross
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged the government of Moldova and the leadership of the Orthodox Church to punish those responsible for uprooting the Hanukkah menorah.
“The Moldovan government and the Orthodox Church must punish the perpetrators of this despicable anti-Semitic crime and send a clear signal to Moldovan society and to the Jewish community that the government and the church will not tolerate anti-Semitism,” said ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.
During the incident, the priest's followers held signs, chanted anti-Semitic slogans and clarified that they would not allow Jews "to control Moldova". They removed the menorah and replaced it with a cross.
The national government said in a statement that "hatred, intolerance and xenophobia" are unacceptable. Jewish leader Alexandr Bilinkis called on the Orthodox Church to take a position over the priest's actions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report