Jewish Cemetery Vandalism
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of American Cemetery & Cremation magazine:
A massive act of vandalism at one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the St. Louis, Missouri, area in late February , was just the first in a string of attacks on Jewish cemeteries throughout the United States.
Less than a week after vandals toppled more than 170 gravestones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery over the weekend of Feb. 18-19, [2017,] Philadelphia police reported that about 100 headstones were damaged at Mt. Carmel Cemetery.
The vandalism continued into early March when 16 graves at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, New York, were targeted.
The vandalism continued unabated over the summer. In July alone, vandals knocked over six headstones at the Netherlands Cemetery Association Burial Ground in Melrose, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Massachusetts, and 60 headstones were knocked down at the Ateres Knesseth Israel Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.
Law enforcement officials worked to identify the perpetrators, and while the motives for the vandalism were unclear, David Posner, an official with the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, told ABC News that he had seen a “general rise in the intolerance in this nation now, and I think it gives the feeling that people can act with greater impunity.”
With investigations ongoing, cemetery officials and community members refused to let hate win. Thanks to the generosity of strangers and the hard work of volunteers, the cemeteries are being restored to their former glory.
In August, Chesed Shel Emeth held a rededication ceremony on cemetery grounds, after almost six months of fundraising and physical labor.
Andrew Rehfeld, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and other organizers, gave particular recognition to Tarek El-Messidi, the St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported. El-Messidi, a Muslim social justice advocate from Philadelphia, has been a presence in St. Louis since shortly after the cemetery made national headlines. He and another volunteer raised $160,000 for restoration efforts at the cemetery within a few weeks of the vandalism.
“At the core, every human being has the right to rest in peace,” El-Messidi told the newspaper.
And on Oct. 24, [2017,] the first official tour of the refurbished Mt. Carmel Cemetery was given.
The cemetery’s restoration efforts were led by The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which helped to raise more than $228,000 and coordinate the volunteer efforts of more than 300 individuals.
Following his tour of the cemetery, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney took to Twitter: “We’ll continue to respond to hate with love & speak out against injustice. Proud of how Philadelphia responded to repair Mt. Carmel.”