Over 170 headstones vandalized in St. Louis Jewish cemetery
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Over 170 headstones vandalized in St. Louis Jewish cemetery

Police investigating possible hate crime; burial society director calls attack ‘horrific act of cowardice’

Video still of vandalized headstones in Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: FOX2NEWS via JTA)
Video still of vandalized headstones in Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: FOX2NEWS via JTA)

More than 170 gravestones were damaged in a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis which has served the community for more than 100 years.

Vandals pushed over headstones on the Jewish graves on Sunday in the suburb of University City, Missouri.

”Numerous plots were damaged and [headstones were] pushed over,” Lt. Fredrick Lemons of the University City Police Department told The Huffington Post.

When asked whether he considered the attack to be a hate crime, Lemons replied that “Right now, everything is under investigation. We’re looking into all possible leads.” He added that police were reviewing video surveillance footage.

People walk through toppled graves at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Authorities in Missouri are investigating after dozens of headstones were tipped over at the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. (Robert Cohen /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
People walk through toppled graves at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Authorities in Missouri are investigating after dozens of headstones were tipped over at the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. (Robert Cohen /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Police said that it was likely there was more than one perpetrator, Fox2News reported.

Some of the graves, in the oldest section of the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery, date back to the late 1800s. The cemetery holds an estimated 20,000 graves.

Anita Feigenbaum, director of the burial society, told the Washington Post that it was a “horrific act of cowardice,” and she described it as worse than any previous anti-Semitic attacks.

She said that the burial society was founded “to aid all Jews who needed burial whether they had the money or not. To this day that’s what we do. We are not for profit. We help in this horrible time in a person’s life.”

The Chesed Shel Emeth Society was formed in 1888 by Jewish Russian immigrants who found the American Jewish services unfamiliar. The group set up a burial society to arrange funerals according to Russian Jewish customs, and the following year it opened its own Synagogue. This cemetery was opened in 1893.

Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt called the incident “Another revolting manifestation of #antisemitism.” He also seemed to level criticism at the White House’s hesitancy to address anti-Semitic attacks, adding “Long overdue for our leaders to lead.”

A local church launched an appeal to repair the damage caused to the cemetery and the local ADL thanked people for their support in a tweet.

 

The vandalism was discovered hours after Jewish community centers across the country received bomb threats, in the fourth wave of similar incidents in just over a month.

Asked about the threats Monday, the White House said “these actions are unacceptable.”

“Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. “The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.”

US President Donald Trump has been criticized for refusing to address concerns over an uptick in anti-Semitism, shouting down and berating a Jewish reporter who asked about it at a press conference last week.

On Monday, his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish posted a vague tweet on her personal account Monday that appeared to address the dozens of bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the US in recent weeks.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC,” tweeted Trump, who has played a prominent if unofficial role in her father’s administration.

JTA contributed to this report.

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