cemetery desecration

Rutgers students condemn cemetery vandalism

When I first blogged about the cemetery vandalism in New Brunswick, I wrote Are we in Eastern Europe? I am pleased to say we are not. What is the difference? Here in Central New Jersey, not only is the Jewish community reacting with shock to the recent vandalism, but there is also condemnation from the general community.

From today’s Daily Targum, the Rutgers student newspaper:

“It is one of the most dramatic events you [can] see in a physical sense,” said Rutgers University Student Assembly treasurer Yonaton Yares, a School of Arts and Sciences student.

RUSA unanimously passed a resolution Thursday to get students involved in the site’s repair.

Members of the assembly said such a resolution was necessary in order to make a statement on behalf of the student body that such acts are unacceptable.

“[The resolution] shows that Rutgers University doesn’t tolerate that kind of crime, because we don’t want to destroy our diversity,” said College Avenue Council Vice President Yelena Shvarts, a Rutgers College junior.

The key to preventing such acts from occurring in the future is to become opinionated, said RUSA recording secretary Kathryn Jenkins, a Douglass College student.

Yares said this incident has brought together members of Rutgers Hillel.

“We have decided to say that Rutgers students – Jewish, non-Jewish, black, white or Latino – all care about this,” he said.

RUSA hopes the assembly can generate the same solidarity among students that the University community demonstrated during the Don Imus controversy last year to prevent future acts from occurring.

“When someone goes on the radio and attacks our women’s basketball team, they don’t just attack those women. They attack the entire Rutgers community,” said RUSA chair Jim Kline, a Rutgers College senior. “The same goes when you attack the Rutgers community and what it stands for.”

Surveyors are beginning to assess the damage done to the site in an attempt to estimate the amount that repairs will cost.

A week after the incident, four teenagers were arrested and charged for committing the vandalism, though the acts were not deemed anti-Semitic by authorities, according to The Associated Press.

But Kline said the acts are upsetting to the Jewish community.

“I think our voice as the student body lends an olive branch to the Jewish community. It allows students to enter into this dialogue about racism, sexism and, in this case, anti-Semitism,” Kline said. “It’s important to have these conversations now that we live in this bubble where we can openly discuss ideas and thoughts.”

Somehow I think there is a connection to the film I viewed by a Franklin Township student yesterday. Sonal Thawani’s film “Take a Stand Against Violence,” a 6-minute piece showed the positive action taken by her community’s youth in response to the recent violence in her township. It was heartening to see in Sonal’s film that many people in her community wanted to see a stop to the violence. Likewise, we all would like cemetery desecration to stop as well.

My main thought is it is easier to teach a five-year old to respect property, respect the dead, and respect others than a 17 year old. And as both cemetery desecration and violence against one’s peers reflect poor anger management, some kind of positive channeling is needed at a young age. I hardly profess to have answers, but I am good at asking the questions.

Suing over cemetery

From nj.com:

Accused vandals sued over Jewish cemetery destruction
A Rutherford resident whose parents’ gravestones were desecrated in a New Brunswick Jewish cemetery this month has filed a lawsuit against the four teenagers charged with causing the damage to nearly 500 headstones.

Mark Elfant is a member of Congregation Poile Zedek with familial ties to the congregation dating to the 1800s. Gerald Gordon, Elfant’s lawyer, said he is seeking monetary damages from the accused teenagers, their parents and anyone else involved. Damage has been estimated between $500,000 to $1 million.

“We’re not going to let them off the hook,” said Gordon, whose mother ran the cemetery for 30 years and who is handling the case pro bono. “The money we get will go to a fund for the restoration, security and perpetual care of the cemetery.”

Elfant’s mother, Ann Elfant, cared for the cemetery for five decades. His father, Morris Elfant, played a key role in creating the cemetery association. And his grandfather, Benjamin Elfant, was a founder of the congregation in the late 1800s.

Caryn Lipson, administrator at Congregation Poile Zedek, declined to comment.

“He is acting as a private citizen,” Lipson said. “This has nothing to do with the congregation.”

The commenters to the article all want to see something done. The idea that a 17 year old can commit such an act and walk away scot-free is bizarre.

Learning from Cemetery Desecration

Rabbi Bassous devoted his speech this past Shabbat to learning from the cemetery vandalism in New Brunswick. I missed the speech (my daughter had other plans for me), so I apologize in advance to Rabbi Bassous if I botch my summary of what he said. My husband related to me that he spoke about two topics:

1) Even when you are dead, you may still not be at rest. Vandals can still attack your grave.
2) It is important to raise children from an early age to respect property. This can start with teaching children to pick up a candy wrapper from the floor. Unfortunately, the teens involved in this incident were not raised to respect property.
My husband pointed out that if the teens were tried in a Jewish Halachic court, they would be considered adults. In the American judicial system, they are considered juveniles.

In my searches on the web, I discovered that cemetery desecration is all too common a pastime for some teens. Clearly, there are a lot of parents out there NOT teaching their children to respect property, especially buried dead people. On one forum, I found young men bragging about their exploits, and saying the only reason why this is getting such publicity is because it is a Jewish cemetery. Sad. And scary.

Cemetery Desecration Update

Newswire update:

New Brunswick, NJ – Four teenagers have been arrested in connection with the damage done to nearly 500 headstones at the Jewish cemetery, a rabbi from one of the two synagogues that uses the cemetery said.

Received through a synagogue email:

The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County stands with the community in expressing shock and sadness at the desecration and vandalism at the Poile Zedek Cemetery in New Brunswick.

Federation has teamed with Congregation Poile Zedek, Congregation Etz Ahaim, Rabbis, cemetery officials and the organized Jewish community to assess the damage and provide the support necessary to begin to heal and rebuild. We have approached law enforcement officials, the Mayor of New Brunswick, and the county prosecutor’s office in an effort to maintain open lines of communication. Federation, representing a united Jewish community, is in pursuit of a full-scale, rigorous investigation into this heinous crime, which is an affront to us all.

As we examine all avenues of effectively providing aid and comfort to those impacted and concentrate on putting together a formal plan of action, we are confident that we can count on your support during this trying time for our community. In that vein, we have established a fund for the repair and restoration of the cemetery. Donations can be sent to the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, earmarked “Cemetery Restoration Fund”. 100% of your donation will be directed toward this fund. Our address is 230 Old Bridge Turnpike, South River, NJ 08882. If you need more information, contact us at 732-432-7711 or [email protected]. You may also donate on line by logging onto our website at JewishMiddlesex.org.

Cemetery Vandalized

Headline: Vandals tip tombstones, trash graves
Are we in Eastern Europe? The former Soviet Union? No, no, this took place right here in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Nathan Reiss of Congregation Etz Ahaim said Sunday’s vandalism at the Poile Zedek Cemetery came days after a similar incident was discovered on Thursday. Families of the buried will have to pay for all this damage. Many of these families are descendants of immigrants from Salonika and Turkey, hard-working people who became model American citizens. Read more about some of the families in Voices of Etz Ahaim. Others are Holocaust survivors, such as Menachem Simcha.

My husband said it will cost $200 and up just to repair one headstone. Some are not repairable. 499 headstones toppled.

Finally, the police is now calling this a bias crime. See the comments on Dov Bear.

“To say it was premeditated is an understatement,” said Poile Zedek administrator Caryn Lipson. “It had to be hours and hours of work by several people.”

From the Star Ledger:

Jack Oziel picked his way through the ruins of the vandalized Jewish cemetery yesterday, surveying hundreds of headstones toppled like dominos or lying in crumbled heaps.

He managed to locate the fragments of a granite Star of David that had marked his father’s grave lying on the grass. His mother’s tomb had cracked in half. And everywhere else Oziel looked, he saw more headstones of family and friends knocked down.

“I knew them all. I buried all these people. Now they are all in pieces,” Oziel, 91, said with red eyes as he surveyed the damage at the Poile Zedek Cemetery in New Brunswick.

And I know Jack Oziel. So I feel like I know all of those people buried there, too.

How can this be prevented? A surveillance camera? And who would do something so nasty?