The aftermath of an incident on March 20 involving a municipal truck at the Jewish section of the Pantin cemetery near Paris. Photo courtesy of JSSNews

Toppled graves near Paris inspire conspiracy theories among Jews


Five days after a municipal truck plowed through a Jewish cemetery near Paris in what authorities said was a freak accident, Isabelle Zenou arrived at the scene of the incident with a camera — and a theory.

The March 20 devastation of 13 gravestones in the suburb of Pantin was not an anti-Semitic attack, according to city officials, France’s CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities and even the country’s chief rabbi. The driver drove over 13 headstones after losing control of his vehicle, the chief rabbi said in a statement.

But Zenou, a communications professional from the Paris area, is among many French Jews who are not buying the explanation. She cited delays and alleged time discrepancies in official reports on the incidents, her failure to identify skid marks at the scene and a whirlwind of rumors over the incident.

“I don’t think we’re being told the whole truth,” said Zenou, whose photographs of the damaged stones were published in the Le Figaro newspaper and triggered much speculation about the case online and in the media. Jewish community leaders, meanwhile, accused her and other skeptics of peddling “crackpot conspiracy theories.”

The exact circumstances of the incident in Pantin are the subject of an ongoing police inquiry. Regardless of its findings, though, the incident is already underlining the distrust that many French Jews have in their authorities amid a polarizing presidential campaign, and in a country where many consider wearing a kippah too risky due to hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks recorded in France each year.

Several days after the Pantin incident, the French media reported that unidentified vandals destroyed 40 out of 50 headstones at a small Jewish synagogue near Lyon.

The incident in Lyon, which is undisputedly a deliberate attack, highlighted “the many questions about the incident in Pantin,” said Jonathan Simon-Sellem, a France-born journalist living in Israel. “What is clear is that the Pantin thing exposed a trust crisis between some French Jews, the leaders of their communities and the authorities.”

Initial reports about the incident, including by the La Voix Du Nord local paper, came five days after it happened. The paper and other publications said it took place at night, when the driver steered into the Jewish section of the cemetery to avoid hitting a couple visiting a relative’s grave.

In addition to social network posts by users like Zenou, the reports triggered a wave of rumors and speculation on several well-read French Jewish news sites, including Europe-Israel, JSSNews and the website of the far-right French Jewish Defense League.

The cemetery, the skeptics pointed out, is closed at night, making a collision with visitors unlikely even if the municipal truck was there after hours. In addition, Zenou maintained, “the cemetery paths are too small for a truck to drive on with enough speed to knock over a dozen massive headstones. Nothing adds up.”

Francoise Saadoun, who has four relatives buried in the cemetery, was among the dozens of French Jews who expressed their skepticism of the official version.

“I don’t believe in an accident for one second,” she wrote on Facebook. “The condition of the roads in the cemetery make it impossible.”

The fact that the first reaction by authorities to the incident came nearly a week after it happened did not add to the credibility of officials and community leaders.

“The authorities decided to make a deal to avoid rocking the boat during the elections campaign because news of another anti-Semitic incident will help the far right under Marine Le Pen,” Zenou said. “They covered it up.”

Simon-Sellem said the baseless allegations, which CRIF in a statement recently denied, condemned and labeled “crackpot conspiracy theories,” are unusual among mainstream members of a community that prides itself on its ability to unite under threat.

He pegged the mood to several factors: inconsistencies regarding the incident itself, compounded by a “growing distrust of authorities’ politicization of information on anti-Semitism” and anxiety over the popularity of Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate, ahead of the elections this month.

Like many American Jews who criticized the Trump administration for being slow to condemn anti-Semitism, French Jews have recently seen a series of events that weakened their own faith in their authorities.

One such event was the March 30 publication of a government report that questioned the existence of a new anti-Semitism in which Jews are targeted over Israel’s actions. It also listed only far-right perpetrators of hate crimes against Jews without mentioning the more politically sensitive violence by Muslims against Jews, which one Jewish watchdog group believes accounts for most assaults.

The hate crime prosecution this year of a prominent Jewish historian who said that Muslims are culturally preconditioned to hate Jews further soured French Jews on the judiciary, although the historian, Georges Benssousan, ultimately was acquitted.

Many Jews also  resented that France’s oldest Jewish organizations, the LICRA human rights group, helped initiate Benssousan’s prosecution. That highlighted a political gap between rank-and-file members of the community and some members of its elite.

“All these factors joined together after the Pantin cemetery incident to open a very divisive debate about basic trust in the midst of the community in a way that didn’t exist in the past,” Simon-Sellem said.

It also prompted a harsh and unusual rebuke of the skeptics by Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of France.

Korsia, whom many French Jews cherish for his hopeful and consoling speeches at times of crisis, delivered his scathing criticism of the speculation around the Pantin incident in an op-ed published March 29 in the Actualite Juive daily.

Calling the skeptics part of a “campaign of deceit,” the rabbi wrote that he understood their “initial reflex to assume a hateful attack.” But their “persistence in circulating rumors amid an atmosphere of fury, conspiracy theory and revenge,” Korsia added, “help neither our credulity as a community nor to generate support for our causes.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at the "We Stand Together" event in Los Angeles on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

At a cemetery, leaders promote tolerance


The images of toppled headstones at Jewish cemeteries deeply saddened, even infuriated Aimee Ginsburg Bikel.

Thoughts turned to staging a protest, something intimate and “folksy” to make her point, that this is wrong.

“But then I realized that I didn’t want to protest against cemetery desecration,” Ginsburg Bikel told the Journal. “I wanted to affirm something, to show we are as one and to stand together.”

On March 26, she was overcome with emotion as all that came to fruition with the sight of nearly 400 people gathered at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in a showing of “unity, love and mutual respect.” The crowd, made up of elected officials, law enforcement, clergy and community members, was a kaleidoscope of people in headscarves, hijabs, yarmulkes, priestly robes and turbans.

“I wish all of you could see what I see,” Ginsburg Bikel said from a podium. “This is some view. It’s astonishingly beautiful. All of your faces look like flowers in a garden.”

Everyone joined together for her interfaith “We Stand Together” event to hear prayers, songs and speeches promoting tolerance and embracing diversity. It was held atop a hill overlooking most of Sinai’s lush 82-acre burial grounds nestled in between Griffith Park and the buzzing 134-freeway. The park is owned and operated by Sinai Temple.

The event was organized by Ginsburg Bikel, the widow of civil rights activist and film actor Theodore Bikel, along with Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica and Hazzan Mike Stein, cantor at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, under the auspices of the Theodore Bikel Legacy Project. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries also sponsored the event. 

Ginsburg Bikel drew on the words and experiences of her late husband to demonstrate to her audience the importance of standing together and being heard during times of peril.

“We know what happens when good people stay silent, [Theo] used to say often, alluding specifically to the occupation of his beloved Vienna when the Nazis took over in 1938 a few months after his bar mitzvah,” she said. “We celebrate Theo’s legacy here today by raising our voices now and not later asserting that the red lines have already been crossed and that we won’t allow it. We will stay united and we will build a world of peace together.”

Beneath Sinai’s “Heritage Mosaic,” a mural spanning 145 feet made of Venetian glass depicting a panorama of American Jewry, guests included local rabbis, imams, ministers, pastors, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh priests and representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Controller Ron Galperin and California Assembly member Laura Friedman were also in attendance.

The event wasn’t advertised to the general public for security reasons, according to Ginsburg Bikel.

Aimee Ginsburg Bikel speaks on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Aimee Ginsburg Bikel speaks on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

In a ceremonial candle lighting ceremony, community leaders read aloud from works by such peace icons as Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama. LIFE (Love Inspiration Faith Everlasting), a gospel choir, performed a stirring rendition of Barry Manilow’s “One Voice”.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino delivered a fiery speech in which he drew parallels between Jewish cemetery desecration and a recent wave of hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, gays, transgender individuals and other minority groups.

“The woman who wears the Islamic head scarf and is assaulted on a New York subway by someone who tells her ‘Go back to your country’ is my sister, and she is my problem,” Feinstein said.

“If you can’t live in your own soul and in your own heart there’s no neighborhood in this land that will be home to you,” he added. “The narrative of otherness is what we’ve come to declare war against. We are one. We will be one. Only as one will we ever have peace.”

Garcetti, who told the crowd he has an uncle buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, had come straight from a celebration of Bangladeshi independence, to attend. Wearing a yarmulke, he said during difficult times he chooses to opt for hopefulness, focusing on how to continue building up the city as a beacon for diversity.

“It’s time for us to stop thinking so much about the most powerful person in this country and to start thinking again about the most vulnerable people in this country,” Garcetti said to applause.

Religious and elected leaders stand together. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Religious and elected leaders stand together. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Joseph Schwartz, 51, heard about the event at IKAR, the synagogue he attends, and felt compelled to participate. He said the attendance of elected officials was both a highlight and encouraging.

“It was very good, very moving,” he said. “It shows that officials on the local and state level are truly committed to doing what is right.”

A unity pledge was available for all elected officials and clergy present to sign. Ginsburg Bikel said that she plans to display the pledge, a proclamation of unifying principles, at a different house of worship for several days at a time over the next year.

She told the Journal that she’s glad the event helped some in the community heal from a collective sense of sorrow in light of recent events. She said organizing more unity events might be in her future. 

“People have been telling me they feel inspired and refreshed,” she said. “They feel that they’re not in this alone and they now know they’re surrounded by like-minded people. They want to know what the next thing is. What are we doing next? That’s the response of elected officials, clergy and the public. I have to take it under advisement. I wasn’t expecting to start a movement.”

Aggrieved, aghast, agape


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Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/REUTERS.

Local cemeteries refrain from security changes, despite heightened concern


Despite recent incidents of vandalism and desecration at Jewish cemeteries across the country, none has occurred in the Los Angeles area, and supervisors here have not yet taken any drastic actions to prevent trouble.

“We don’t feel we need added security measures or added personnel at this time,” Yossi Manela, a funeral director with Chevra Kadisha Mortuary, said.

Chevra Kadisha manages four Jewish cemeteries: Agudath Achim Cemetery and Beth Israel Cemetery in East Los Angeles, Mount Carmel Cemetery in Commerce and Young Israel Cemetery in Norwalk. All four have upright headstones.

Chevra Kadisha’s cemeteries are fully fenced with high gates. Mount Carmel and Beth Israel are open during the day and locked at night. Agudath Achim and Young Israel are always locked, but family members with loved ones buried there have access to the combination lock.

Manela, who has been a funeral director there for 23 years, said it would be too expensive to add measures such as round-the-clock security and cameras.

Jolene Mason, general manager of Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, which has a section of upright headstones, isn’t planning big changes, either.

“We’ve always had security that’s ready for anything,” she said. “That’s not just in light of what’s happening. That’s just our security policy.”

She said she has briefed the private company that handles security measures for Eden Memorial.

“We’ve just let them know in case they weren’t aware of what’s happening around the country and in case the supervisor wants to come and check more so they’re on heightened awareness,” she said. “We’re comfortable with our current security situation.”

Noelle Berman has been director of private estates at Beth Olam Cemetery in Hollywood for 16 years. Beth Olam is the 63-acre Jewish section of the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery that routinely draws tourist crowds visiting celebrity graves and droves of guests in the summer for outdoor movie screenings.

Beth Olam, whose graves are marked with Stars of David and menorahs, isn’t separated from the rest of Hollywood Forever. There also are some marked Jewish graves outside of the Beth Olam section, dispersed throughout the rest of the cemetery. Berman said additional security at Beth Olam, or the cemetery at large, isn’t in the plans.

“We haven’t had even one bit of concern as of this moment,” she said.

Berman cited constant foot traffic as a form of self-policing and Hollywood Forever’s central location as a deterrent to would-be agitators.

“Hollywood Forever is a cultural center,” she said. “I think there’s such a sense of community here that’s already built in that makes it feel safe. I can’t imagine anything happening here because it’s always so populated, and it’s right in the heart of Hollywood. The incidents around the country happened in more isolated areas.”

Len Lawrence, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Park and Mortuaries, took a different tone than his peers.

“There has been a significant amount of internal conversation about what to do,” Lawrence said. “With what’s happening to other Jewish cemeteries, it would be foolish of us not to review our security procedures.”

Mount Sinai’s two parks, one in the Hollywood Hills and another in Simi Valley, are both owned by Sinai Temple. Lawrence has overseen both for the last 15 years. During his time there, he had never received security-related inquiries by phone or email from concerned family members of loved ones buried in his parks — until now.

“We have spoken to them and assured them we are doing all we can,” he said. “These are sacred grounds that we’ve always protected and need to continue to protect.”

Both parks are fully fenced, locked and rigged with alarm systems. Security is on-site at all times, and both parks are in constant radio communication with a central base station. Surveillance cameras in strategic locations throughout the grounds monitor the parks.

Lawrence pointed out that it has been upright headstones targeted in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Rochester, N.Y. As memorial parks, Sinai’s don’t have upright headstones. Still, Lawrence said, that doesn’t make Sinai’s parks any less vulnerable.

“Even though we don’t have upright headstones, that’s not to say we can’t be vandalized,” he said.

He said his security personnel are adopting a proactive approach, reviewing protocol in the event of telephone threats and weighing further measures to bolster nighttime security, though for security reasons he declined to provide details.

Last week, a representative from the parks’ alarm system company made an on-site evaluation, and a representative of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Security Initiative (CSI) also came for an inspection.

Ivan Wolkind, Federation’s chief operating and finance officer, established the security initiative five years ago with the aim of helping the city’s Jewish community address its security needs in a more autonomous fashion. His team of five Federation employees, all with backgrounds in either the U.S. military or Israel Defense Forces, offers free site and vulnerability assessments as well as security training to any Jewish institution in Los Angeles. Wolkind said CSI’s city database includes 470 Jewish institutions.

“We have been reaching out, being proactive, and they have been reaching out to us, as well,” Wolkind said of the work with cemeteries and memorial parks. “We just want to make sure procedures and protocols that have been put in place are being acted on and adhered to. It’s also just checking in and making sure people are vigilant.”

President Donald Trump on Feb. 28. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

There is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism


The actual percentage is yet to be exactly known, but it is already clear that a serious number of the major anti-Semitic incidents taking place — such as defacing Jewish graves, painting swastikas on Jewish students’ dorm room doors, and calling in bomb threats to Jewish institutions — are being perpetrated by leftists who wish to perpetuate the belief that Donald Trump’s election victory has unleashed a national wave of anti-Semitism.

The same seems to hold true for post-Trump anti-Muslim and anti-Black incidents.

I could cite dozens of examples. Here are a few:

Last week, it was reported that a Black, left-wing journalist was arrested for phoning in bomb threats to the ADL and half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

On Feb. 27, the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined: “Racist graffiti found at Lakeville South High School.”

The article began: “Swastikas, racial epithets and other racist graffiti were found etched on bathroom stalls at Lakeville South High School on Monday.”

It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a non-white student: “A ‘non-Caucasian’ Minnesota high school student has been disciplined after it was determined he was responsible for racist and antisemitic graffiti found in a school bathroom. The scribblings included a picture of a lynching, the phrase ‘Hail the Ku Klux Klan,’ the ‘N’ word, and a swastika” (The College Fix, March 2).

On March 1, the Toronto Sun headlined: “Bomb threats targeting Muslims close Concordia buildings.”

The article continued: “ … a group threatened to detonate ‘small artisanal explosive devices’ once a day until Friday in order to injure Muslim students. The group, which described itself as a chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, or C4, complained about Muslim prayer services on campus.”

The next day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported: “The man charged in connection with Wednesday’s bomb threats at Concordia University, Hisham Saadi, was a PhD student in economics there. … Saadi is of Lebanese origin.”

The College Fix, which accumulates data on these hoaxes, reported that “At Massachusetts’ Williams College, two students admitted to trashing the school’s Griffin Hall with a ‘red wood-stain substance resembling blood’ and spelled out ‘AMKKK KILL.’ ” The college newspaper, The Williams Record, later reported that the two students did it “to bring attention to the potential impact of the presidential election on campus.”

At Bowling Green State University on the day after the election, a Black student alleged three white males clad in ‘Trump’ shirts called her a racial slur and threw rocks at her. ABC News reported shortly thereafter that the police concluded she made up the story.

MSNBC posted a tweet that contained what appeared to be a video of a female Muslim student beating up a ‘racist’ male pupil at Washburn High School. “Don’t mess with Somali girls in Minnesota,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced. “The dude tried to knock her hijab (headgar) [sic] off, she gave him a hard lesson.”

The video, titled “Welcome to Washburn,” went viral after it was posted to Facebook, with more than 6.5 million views, more than 161,000 shares and more than 29,000 comments.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared the footage a “hoax” and a “play fight” intended as a joke. And school staff confirmed the alleged incident never happened.

Another anti-Muslim incident that was widely reported was proven to be a hoax. A female Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alleged that right after the election, two white men, one of whom was wearing a Trump cap, attacked her and stole her wallet and the hijab she was wearing. Her story prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and Donald Trump; the FBI launched an investigation; and the story was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.

The Muslim student later admitted to police that she made up the whole story.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco man who raised a Nazi flag on the roof of his home right after the election was a left-wing Trump-hater.

There are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.

The entire notion of a Trump-inspired crime wave is fake news spread by the mainstream media. For more examples, see “There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave In ‘Trump’s America.’ ”

Donald Trump is no more anti-Semitic than the columnists of this newspaper. Nor is Breitbart.com anti-Semitic. And there is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America.

This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria — like heterosexual AIDS in America; the “rape culture” on campuses; the alleged crisis of racist cops wantonly killing innocent Blacks; and global warming threatening life on earth.

Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York Regional Director, speaking during a news conference at the ADL national headquarters in New York City on March 3. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

ADL: Juan Thompson’s arrest alone won’t stop ‘unprecedented’ wave of anti-Semitism


Thanking the FBI and police for the arrest of Juan Thompson, who allegedly made eight bomb threats to Jewish institutions, the Anti-Defamation League called the current wave of anti-Semitic acts “unprecedented.”

“Law enforcement at all levels is a close friend to the Jewish people in America,” Evan Bernstein, ADL’s New York regional director, said at a news conference Friday. “Just because there’s been an arrest today around our bomb threats does not mean that the threats have disappeared or will stop.”

The news conference was convened after law enforcement announced earlier in the day that Thompson had been charged in connection with the deluge of bomb threats received this year by Jewish institutions. Thompson, 31, of St. Louis, allegedly made bomb threats to JCCs, Jewish schools and an ADL office as part of his cyberstalking of a former romantic partner.

The ADL and several other Jewish groups had met Friday with FBI Director James Comey. According to a statement from the groups in attendance, which were not listed, the meeting concerned recent anti-Semitic acts and collaboration between Jewish institutions and law enforcement.

“All the organizations in attendance expressed the deep gratitude of the entire community for the extraordinary effort that the FBI is applying to the ongoing investigation,” the statement said. “The representatives of the Jewish community left with the highest confidence that the FBI is taking every possible measure to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

According to statistics compiled by the New York Police Department, anti-Semitic acts have nearly doubled in early 2017 as compared to one year earlier. The ADL said that due to the reach of the internet and the quantity of recent bomb threats, white supremacists are more emboldened than ever. 

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen. White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, New York, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

The ADL called on President Donald Trump to take action against anti-Semitism, including by directing the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into the threats, and by creating a federal interagency task force on combating hate crimes chaired by the attorney general.

“We need action to stop these threats,” Bernstein said. “History shows that when anti-Semitism gains the upper hand, courageous leaders need to speak out and take action before it’s too late.”

Segal said the ADL has been tracking Thompson, a disgraced former journalist, since he fabricated the identity of a cousin of Dylann Roof, the gunman who killed nine at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Thompson was fired from his reporter post at The Intercept last year for fabricating sources and quotes. According to the ADL, he has posted inflammatory tweets about white police officers and the “white New York liberal media.”

Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

Jewish cemetery vandalized in Rochester, NY — third incident in US in less than 2 weeks


A Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York, was vandalized, the third such incident in the United States in less than two weeks.

Five headstones were found toppled Thursday morning at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in the city in western New York, according to News 10 NBC WHEC.

The president of the nonprofit managing the cemetery said he did not want to call the incident a hate crime or anti-Semitism.

“I don’t want to label it a hate crime. I don’t think there’s any proof of that. I don’t want to label it anti-Semitism. I don’t think there’s any proof of that,” said Michael Phillips, president of the Britton Road Association, according to The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Police were awaiting notice from the cemetery before commencing an investigation, News 10 NBC WHEC reported.

The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into Jewish community centers, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year.

A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Muslim veterans offer to guard Jewish sites across US


Following the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries, some Muslims on Twitter are offering to help guard Jewish sites.

The tweeters, including some veterans, said they would volunteer to protect JCCs, cemeteries and synagogues, the Huffington Post first reported.

This latest show of solidarity comes after an online fundraising campaign started by two Muslims — and touted by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — raised more than $150,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis last week. Some 170 gravestones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, Missouri.

One of the founders of the campaign, Linda Sarsour, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a harsh critic of Israel.

On Monday, a Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a Florida mosque damaged in an arson attempt said that many of the donors to the campaign, which raised $60,000, were Jewish.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher…. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai’. It wishes the recipient a long life,” Adeel Karim, a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa wrote Monday in a Facebook post. “The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I’m floored.”

Over the past two months, nearly 90 bomb threats have been called into 72 Jewish institutions in 30 states and one Canadian province. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was also vandalized.

President Donald Trump condemned the anti-Semitic threats on Tuesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress.

Headstones lay on the ground in Philadelphia on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Concern, not panic


There has been an epidemic of anti-Semitic threats and acts of vandalism directed at Jewish institutions in the United States over the past several weeks. The Anti-Defamation League has reported more than 90 incidents this year.

The level of concern and the number of incidents even led to President Trump opening his speech to the joint session of the Congress last night with a robust condemnation of what has transpired, “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”

His remarks may help quell some of the anxiety in the Jewish community which was exacerbated by his recent suggestion that the incidents may have been “false flag” operations designed to discredit him.

Obviously, simply the fact that Jewish cemeteries and centers are the targets of threats tombstone topplingand vandalism is, in itself, troubling. What is not clear is whether they reflect an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in the body politic or isolated acts of some of society’s losers.

It is instructive to put the headline-making events in some historical context.

Historically, inflammatory incidents such as these (toppling tombstones) which receive intense media attention tend to promote copycat incidents which take on a life of their own—often unrelated to an underlying sentiment of anti-Semitism that motivated the precipitating incident.

In 1959-60 an epidemic of anti-Semitic garnered world-wide attention, the ADL published a study, Swastika 1960 .”On December 24, 1959, a swastika was painted on a synagogue in Cologne, Germany. On December 26, the first wave of similar incidents occurred in the United States. For the next nine weeks, swastikas were smeared on Jewish temples, on Jewish community centers, on Jewish homes, on churches, on sidewalks, on college campuses, on automobiles….By the time the epidemic had spent itself, some 643 incidents had occurred.”

Among the study’s conclusions was, “It cannot be disputed that publicity given to the German desecrations and subsequent outbreaks played a major role in setting off further incidents. The offenders, as we saw earlier, often reported that they got the idea from newspapers, from television, and other mass media. It is probable that as early incidents mounted, publicity given to them precipitated other incidents as offenders of otherwise low predisposition were stimulated to participate….”

It is a striking parallel to today, except that today the threshold for a troubled actor to “participate” is so much lower. Anyone can email, call or otherwise threaten and frighten individuals around the globe with a few key strokes or a muffled voice distorter. Domestically, it hardly takes a committed bigot to enter an old cemetery and topple gravestones and then see the results of his handiwork on the 11 o’clock news.

When I advised victims of vandalism in my years at ADL, I invariably suggested that publicity be avoided unless there was already a series of bad acts—inspiring other thugs was to be avoided at all costs.  I knew from experience that press attention on an act of hate, especially if it provoked a public display of emotional injury by the victim, generated copy cats.

There are reasons for concern because of today’s incidents—but not for panic. There are no indications of a wave of anti-Semitism in the US today.

In fact, in the midst of the threats, desecrations and presidential mixed messages there was an under-reported study by the Pew Center two weeks ago which should offer some solace.

Pew published its periodic “religious feeling thermometer” to determine how religious groups feel about each other in the US. Last month’s survey had only better news; the “warmth” meter for Jews and Catholics (historic subjects of American bigotry) is high—even higher than in 2014 when the survey was last done,

Americans express warm feelings toward Jews, with half of U.S. adults rating them at 67 degrees or higher on the 0-to-100 scale…..These warm ratings are not significantly affected by the ratings of Jews themselves, because Jews make up just 2% of the U.S. adult population.

Similarly, about half of U.S. adults (49%) rate Catholics at 67 degrees or higher. But this does include a substantial share of respondents who are themselves Catholic, as Catholics make up roughly one-fifth of the adult population in the U.S. Looking only at non-Catholic respondents, 43% rate Catholics at 67 or higher on the thermometer and 44% place them in the middle range.

The Pew results are worth remembering as we watch the news and witness events that seem to run counter to what the data show. Bad acts and occasional reversals can and will happen, even if the flow of history is favorable. The media will tire of reporting the incidents and they will diminish as the troublemakers get less pay off for their anti-social conduct. The thugs and vandals are not today’s most serious problem.

A row of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St Louis on Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/Reuters

5 ways to fight back against anti-Semitism


So it turns out that in the year 2017, we need a strategy to combat rising anti-Semitism.

Go figure.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been 100 bomb scares at Jewish institutions nationwide. Last month vandals attacked and desecrated a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery, toppling more than 170 tombstones. The New York Police Department reported a doubling of anti-Semitic crimes in 2017 through Feb. 12 compared with last year, from 13 to 28. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Jewish Journal there’s been a doubling of hate incidents in Los Angeles since the November election as well.

This week began with the vandalism of 75 to 100 gravestones at a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery. On Monday, there was a new wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers, including the Westside JCC.

And since the Journal goes to press Tuesday, you’ll have to read this online for updates. The week’s not over yet.

Our response to all of these fresh outrages have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime.

In the former category is Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s call for his country to prepare for a flood of American Jews fleeing to Israel. In response, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg offered a perfect one-word tweet: “Chill.”

A less hysterical response came from Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who published a 10-point plan the Trump White House could follow to counter rising anti-Semitism from the left and right sides of the political spectrum.

Greenblatt called on the administration to fund a civil rights investigation into the bomb threats, convene a federal inter-agency task force on fighting hate led by an appointed coordinator, support state and local legislation protecting college students from religious harassment and discrimination, breathe life back into the Countering Violent Extremism program, address cyber-hate in a comprehensive manner, increase federal funds for anti-hate content in local schools and “call out bigotry at every opportunity.”

While he is holding his breath for a White House reply to these sensible, minimal steps, I want to offer another list as well, this one aimed at what American Jews could do.

Until now, most of us have done little more than repost reports of anti-Semitic acts on Facebook with sad emoticons and snide remarks about the president or his Jewish daughter and son-in-law. But it is time to stop playing defense, to stop being passive spectators to our own persecution. Here’s my Jewish community to-do list:

1. More cameras, more guards. Your local used car lot has more security cameras than many cemeteries. That has to change. We don’t need Paris-style security cordons around our synagogues and centers, but we do need to beef up surveillance and private interdiction. 

2. Anti-Semitic “SWAT” teams. Remember those volunteer lawyers who swooped down on airports in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s Muslim travel ban?  We need teams of former prosecutors, law enforcement experts and lawyers at the ready who can, in coordination with existing Jewish organizations, help local authorities catch and convict hate perpetrators. And high-profile guard watches at Jewish cemeteries and elsewhere will likely scare off most of the cowards who creep out at night.

3. Fight non-Jewish hate, too. The hate virus is highly contagious. We need to fight it wherever it breeds. Breitbart.com and “The Alex Jones Show” are two Petri dishes of hate.  Every time a Muslim says “boo” in Sweden, there’s a front-page splash on Breitbart, but more than a week since the hate-crime murder of an Indian immigrant at a Kansas bar, Breitbart still has not featured it. Meanwhile, Breitbart did find home page space to attack the Forward newspaper for reporting Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka’s ties to anti-Semitic Hungarian groups.

4. Join forces. Those Muslim groups helping repair Jewish cemeteries? Embrace them. Thank them. Come out when they need help. Yes, you probably don’t see eye to eye with them on Israel or women’s rights, but we’re going to need allies. We are in this particular fight together.

5. Don’t do their job for them. Hate crimes begin with hate speech. The strategy of the alt-right and the Trump administration is to pit Jew against Jew. They want to divide conservative, more religious, Bibi-supporting Jews from more liberal, secular, pro-two state Jews. It was shameful to see mainstream Jewish organizations like Jewish Federations of North America line up behind Trump ambassadorial nominee David Friedman after he used hate speech to describe other Jews — language that only fuels hateful acts.

Look, we needn’t be hysterical, but neither do we have to be passive. I don’t think the American-Jewish community is under dire threat, and I certainly don’t predict a flood of us heading to Israel any time soon. Think of it this way: There are an estimated 200,000 Israelis living in the United States. Many of them are trained by the Israel Defense Forces and have access to America’s bounty of guns and ammunition. I don’t see them running away because some troll speed-dialed a JCC. When push comes to shove, I see them — and all of us — taking the fight to the enemy.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool

Trump notes anti-Semitic threats and vandalism in speech to Congress


President Donald Trump noted recent bomb threats on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains,” Trump said at the opening of his speech Tuesday night. “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

Close to a hundred Jewish institutions have been targeted with bomb threats since the beginning of the year. A bar patron in Kansas ejected from the establishment last week after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun and killed one of the men and wounded another as well as a man who tried to stop the attacker.

In all of these cases, Trump has come under fire for delayed responses. In the case of the threats on Jewish establishments, Trump at first deflected questions – and in one instance shouted abuse at a reporter – before calling the threats “horrible” last week. The White House did not address the Kansas shooting until Tuesday, six days after the attack.

Jewish leaders who had criticized the president for his fumbled responses praised the inclusion of the reference in his speech.

“Powerful for @POTUS to note anti-Semitism at top of speech,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said on Twitter. “Key now is to investigate and end terror campaign.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, sounded a similar note.

“Thanks @POTUS for condemning #hate against Jews & immigrants,” Greenblatt said on Twitter. “Now let’s fight it. See our plan. Let’s do it together.”

Much of Trump’s speech was focused on his plans to restrict current immigration practices, impose law and order, repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature law, and reform trade agreements with other countries and, unusually, by excoriating his predecessors’ policies, “Overseas, we have inherited a series of tragic foreign policy disasters,” he said.

Trump also alluded to his efforts to improve ties with Israel, which were beset by tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He noted that – like Obama had – he imposed sanctions on Iran individuals and entities after the country tested a ballistic missile.

“I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel,” he said.

Greenblatt in a tweet called on Trump to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Trump earlier this month retreated from 15 years of U.S. commitment to the two-state outcome.

“POTUS reaffirmed unbreakable alliance w #Israel & threat posed by #Iran,” Greenblatt said. “Hope he also will reaffirm commitment to 2 state solution & true peace in region.”

Democrats sat silent through much of the speech, refraining from applause and making thumbs down movements when they disagreed. All the women in the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives wore white, an initiative of Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., who is Jewish.

Frankel told People Magazine that the white hearkened back to the Suffragettes, and was meant to protest Trump rollbacks of reproductive rights and other protections for women.

“Women all over this country are terrified right now,” Frankel told the magazine. “They’re afraid of losing access to reproductive choice, afraid of Planned Parenthood getting defunded, afraid of an Affordable Care Act repel, and losing access to affordable birth control.”

Seated next to one another were Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the Jewish congresswoman who was until last summer the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who last week lost his bid to replace her, but who secured the spot as deputy chairman of the party. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Their sitting together was a sign of Democratic unity after internal rivalries helped drive the party apart last year and contributed to the party’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the presidential election and in both chambers of Congress: Wasserman Schultz is identified with the Clinton camp, while Ellison was close to Clinton’s primaries rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Additionally, Wasserman Schultz is among the Democrats closest to the pro-Israel lobby, while Ellison came under fire during his DNC run for his critical postures on Israel policy and for his association decades ago with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam movement.

President Donald Trump in Oxon Hill, Md., on Feb. 24. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump reportedly said JCC threats may be trying to ‘make others look bad’


President Donald Trump reportedly said that a wave of threats against Jewish communal institutions may be a false flag.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish and a Democrat, described a meeting of state attorney generals and Trump on Tuesday to BuzzFeed.

Trump called the wave of bomb threats in recent weeks forcing the evacuation of nearly 100 Jewish community centers and other institutions countrywide as “reprehensible,” Shapiro said, but added: “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people – or to make others – look bad.”

Shapiro said Trump said it was “the reverse” two or three times but did not clarify what he meant.

Earlier the same day Anthony Scaramucci, a top adviser to the Trump transition team who is under consideration for a White House job, advanced a similar argument on Twitter, saying the threats may be aimed at harming Trump.

“It’s not yet clear who the #JCC offenders are,” Scaramucci said. “Don’t forget @TheDemocrats effort to incite violence at Trump rallies.”

There were several incidents of violence at Trump campaign rallies during last year’s election, but no evidence linking the offenders to an organized Democratic Party effort.

Melanie Steinhardt comforting Becca Richman at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia on Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

White House condemns Jewish cemetery vandalism, JCC bomb threats ‘in strongest terms’


The Trump administration denounced vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country.

The condemnation, made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, came hours after at least 16 Jewish community centers were hit with bomb threats in the fifth wave of such incidents this year, and a day after about 100 headstones were found toppled at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia in the second such incident in a week.

“The president continues to be deeply disappointed and concerned by the reports of further vandalism at Jewish cemeteries,” Spicer said Monday during a media briefing. “The cowardly destruction in Philadelphia this weekend comes on top of similar accounts from Missouri and threats made to Jewish community centers around the country.

“The president continues to condemn these and any other form of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms,” he continued, adding that “[n]o one in America should feel afraid to follow the religion of their choosing freely and openly.”

Last week, President Donald Trump — following pressure from Jewish groups and political leaders to condemn anti-Semitism in the wake of what has been called an uptick in incidents since he was elected — said “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop.”

Trump came under fire earlier this month for his response to a reporter who asked at a news conference about the prior JCC bomb threats and what the government’s response would be to “an uptick in anti-Semitism.” Although the reporter did not suggest Trump was anti-Semitic, the president answered by denying he is an anti-Semite and called the question “insulting.” He ordered the reporter to sit down and did not answer the question.

A visitor to the vandalized Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia views some of the toppled tombstones on Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

With few safeguards, Jewish cemeteries make easy targets for vandals


Sometime between the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 17, and the following Monday morning, vandals damaged 170 gravestones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis.

Beyond that, cemetery staffers aren’t sure when the attack happened. Groundskeepers leave at 4 p.m. Fridays, and the cemetery is open to the public, unstaffed, all day Sunday. An employee discovered the damaged headstones Monday morning.

Even less is known about Saturday night’s attack on the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, which saw at least 100 gravestones toppled. Unlike the St. Louis-area cemetery, which is surrounded by a fence and employs groundskeepers, Mount Carmel is run by volunteers, with only a sidewalk separating it from the street.

“There was nothing,” said Steve Rosenberg, chief marketing officer for Philadelphia’s Jewish federation. “It’s wide open. Anyone can walk right in. They can’t find anything that’s closed off to anyone.”

The two attacks, coming one week apart, combined with a series of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers, have stoked fears of rising anti-Semitism in the United States and have Jewish leaders fearing that more will follow. Cemeteries, security experts say, are particularly vulnerable because they are big, sparsely staffed and easy to penetrate.

Chesed Shel Emet, with two locations in suburban St. Louis, has more than 20,000 grave plots and a staff of seven, including four groundskeepers. Mount Carmel in Philadelphia is even smaller: It has about 5,000 graves and no paid staff.

Cemeteries “are of relatively large size, and if there is a cemetery staff, recent budget cuts tend to make that staff smaller and smaller,” said Michael Trinkley, director of the Chicora Foundation, a South Carolina group that conserves cemeteries and other historic sites. “There’s hardly any night security at cemeteries anymore.”

“You can do a great deal of mischief in a relatively small amount of time, and the odds of getting caught are slim.”

Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which advises Jewish groups and institutions on security, fears that cemetery attacks could become a trend like the wave of JCC bomb threats, the latest of which came Monday.

Serving in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office two decades ago, Goldenberg investigated a wave of attacks on some 100 Jewish cemeteries over a period of seven years — including his father’s resting place. That spate, he said, was inspired by the neo-Nazi music scene.

“There’s a feeling that the cemeteries may become a place where vandals may become more proactive,” Goldenberg said. “Right now we’re concerned about copycats.”

Trinkley and Goldenberg said the most effective way to prevent cemetery vandalism is through volunteer patrols that keep the cemetery manned at night, as well as surveillance. Chesed Shel Emeth has security cameras, while Mount Carmel does not.

Goldenberg added that community members need to contact law enforcement when they see a threat, and should let police examine damaged stones before repairing a vandalized cemetery.

“People want to do the right thing and clean up and put stones up,” Goldenberg said. “They need to reconsider that until the police show up for investigation.”

While Goldenberg floated the prospect of paid security, Trinkley said many cemetery budgets probably cannot support that. Even repairing damaged stones can get pricey. Trinkley estimated that setting a toppled headstone aright could cost $500, while buying a new one can run to $4,000.

Financial help has streamed in to assist Chesed Shel Emeth, including more than $100,000 raised by Muslim activists. Online fundraising drives for Mount Carmel are ongoing as well.  Volunteers including Vice President Mike Pence pitched in to clean up the damage in Missouri, and a similar effort is being organized in Philadelphia.

Trinkley likewise advised against forbidding fences and gates. A fence is ineffective, he said, unless it’s 8 feet tall and topped by protective wire — features that can intimidate grieving families.

“At some point, if you start making a cemetery look like a fortress, you’ve defeated most religious goals of making a cemetery a place of commemoration, visitation,” Trinkley said. “You want to be welcoming so people can go to seek solace and comfort.”

At Chesed Shel Emeth, director Anita Feigenbaum has begun a security assessment on how to make the site less vulnerable to attacks. But though the vandalism happened during a weekend, she said closing the cemetery gates on Sundays in the name of safety might be a step too far.

“A lot of people can’t make it during the week,” she said.

Vice President Mike Pence at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Feb. 22. Photo by Michael Thomas/ Getty Images

Pence visits vandalized cemetery, condemns threats to JCCs


Vice President Mike Pence visited a vandalized Jewish cemetery near St. Louis after giving a speech in Missouri touching on a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks.

Pence in his address Wednesday at the Fabick CAT headquarters talked about the vandalism and a series of bomb threats leveled at Jewish community centers across the country in recent weeks. The day before, President Donald Trump condemned anti-Semitism in remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, 154 headstones were knocked over or damaged in the older section of the 129-year-old Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, where the majority of the burials were between 1890 and 1940.

“That, along with other recent threats to Jewish community centers around the country,” Pence said, “declare to all a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil. We condemn this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrated it in the strongest possible terms.”

Photographs showed Pence in shirt-sleeves wielding a rake and picking up branches during cleanup efforts at the cemetery led by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish.

University City Police investigating the vandalism have yet to determine whether it was a random act or a case of anti-Semitism, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Andrew Rehfeld, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, told the Jewish Light that the community should stop guessing at the motivations for these incidents and start looking at the effect.

“The chief culminating effect of all these incidents is a clear targeting of Jewish community institutions,” Rehfeld said. “That’s the pattern that is emerging and we need to contain it.”

He added that the federation is evaluating its ability to support “a much broader security function. We’re looking at a much more significant investment in it.”

Next to Whom Shall I Lay? by Dan Fendel


Expired And Inspired

Expired And Inspired

Burial decisions can be difficult, and sometimes they are even more complicated than usual. One contemporary category of complication involves situations of widow(er)s and remarriage. Here’s a basic scenario:

A is married to B, and B dies. A remarries C, and then C dies (and is not buried next to B). When A dies, should A be buried next to B or to C?

This precise situation arose in my wife’s family, where her father had been married and widowed twice (and then married a third time). My father-in-law’s first two wives were buried in different cemeteries. When he died, there was, initially, some anxiety about the decision about where he should be buried. As it turned out, my wife knew that when her birth mother (her father’s first wife) had died, they had bought a double plot. That resolved the problem.

What to Do?

Upon return from the funeral, my wife and I realized that we were confronted with a potentially similar situation, since I had been widowed (and had not bought a double plot at the time of my late wife’s death). We wanted to avoid potential difficulty for everyone down the road, and bought a double plot for ourselves. Our first choice would have been to buy plots next to that of my late wife, but that section was fully subscribed, so we made a purchase in a different section (of the same cemetery) and told our children about the purchase. (Though we assured them that we had no imminent need of the plots, they were somewhat distressed at the idea. That’s a separate issue.)

Another Situation

A friend recently confronted a different but connected issue. Her father had died years before, and he and his wife had purchased a double plot. But when the wife died recently, the purchased second plot was, at least temporarily, unusable due to water saturation, and she was buried at some distance (though within the same cemetery) from her late husband. My friend was distressed at this, and wanted to know if a disinterment and reburial was possible. Since that cemetery (in England) is under Orthodox supervision, the situation involved halachic issues.

What does the past tell us?

Some research shows that there is substantial discussion of this idea. (Kudos to David Zinner for pulling together this information and more.}

There is a general prohibition of disinterment, to prevent:

* humiliation of the dead
* confusion of the dead
* embarrassment of the dead

But there are exceptions, which are:

* If it was a temporary place (Semachot 13:5)
* To move the deceased to a family tomb (Semachot 13:7)
* To re-bury in Israel (Shulchan Aruch)
* If the original site is unprotected (Shulchan Aruch)
* If there was a stipulation at the time of burial (Shulchan Aruch)
* If the deceased did not have the right to be buried in that space (Shulchan Aruch)

More recently

The issue of disinterment was addressed by an interdominational panel of American rabbis in connection with challenges posed during and after World War II, when American soldiers had been buried in Europe in what were intended as temporary graves. Their response reads, in part:

Considering the special circumstances involved there can be no objection from the point of view of Jewish law to this proposed removal of bodies to America. In the first place it was clearly the intention of the government to move the bodies back to America, therefore this burial overseas was made with the intention of re-interment; second, the government will not maintain overseas cemeteries and [there] would be none to protect and guard any graves that might by chance be left; and third, because the re-burial will be al kever avoth [“in the grave of ancestors”] (Yoreh Deah 363 #1).  [See Responsa in War-Time]

Long-standing duration

Such dilemmas go back to Talmudic times. In Tractate Mo’ed Katan (25a), the Rabbis are debating where one of their colleagues, the eminent Rav Huna, should be buried. They decide to bury him next to his equally eminent colleague, Rav Chisda, presumably because of a principle enunciated in Tractate Sanhedrin (47a), that “We do not bury a wicked person next to a righteous one,” and extend this to the principle that “nor do we bury an ordinary righteous person alongside an unusually great man.” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 362:5).

Sanhedrin cites II Kings 13:21 as the source of the principle that “we do not bury a wicked person next to a righteous one.” In an incident there, a evildoer’s corpse is tossed into a grave which turns out to be that of the prophet Elisha. When this corpse rolls up against that of Elisha, the evildoer is restored to life, indicating that God doesn’t want him buried next to Elisha.

Dan Fendel is co-founder of the Chevrah Kadisha at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA, as well as co-author, with Rabbi Stuart Kelman, of both the Expanded Third Edition of Chesed Shel Emet: The Truest Act of Kindness: Exploring the Meaning of Taharah, and Nichum Aveilim: A Guide for the Comforter. He was lead organizer of the East Bay Chevrah Kadisha Consortium, which promotes cooperation and sharing of resources among the dozen or so Chevrah Kadisha groups in the greater Oakland/Berkeley area. Dan is a graduate of, instructor for, and serves as Dean of Students at the Gamliel Institute.

Dr. Dan Fendel

Dan Fendel

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgement. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD:

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

COURSE PREVIEW

If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for the Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST. The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to info@Jewish-Funerals.org.

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700  info@jewish-funerals.org
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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/)

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

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To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Philistine cemetery found in southern Israel is historic discovery


Archaeologists in southern Israel have uncovered a Philistine cemetery, making an unprecedented discovery.

The discovery following 30 years of work in the Ashkelon National Park by the Leon Levy Expedition was announced Sunday.

The cemetery dates to the 11th to 8th centuries BCE. The findings may support the claim, inferred from the Bible, that the Philistines were migrants to ancient Israel.

 

Artifacts uncovered at the site, including ceramics, jewelry and weapons, as well as the bones themselves, hold the promise of being able to connect the Philistines to related populations across the Mediterranean.

Excavation there, particularly in areas where the burials were undisturbed, allows archaeologists and scholars to begin constructing a picture of the typical goods buried with the Philistines. Small decorated jugs filled with what is assumed to have been perfumed oil, storage jars and small bowls make up the bulk of the goods. A few individuals were found wearing bracelets and earrings, and some were accompanied by their weapons, but the majority were not buried with personal items.

The Philistines buried their dead primarily in pits that were excavated for each individual: male or female, adult or child. Later, additional individuals were sometimes placed in the same pit, which was dug again along roughly the same lines, but the new individuals were interred with their own grave goods. Cremations, pit interments and multi-chambered tombs were also found in the cemetery.

The Leon Levy Expedition, led by Lawrence Stager of Harvard University, has been conducting large-scale excavations in what was ancient Ashkelon since 1985 with the support of Leon Levy and Shelby White of New York. This summer is its final excavation season.

The expedition is organized and sponsored by the Leon Levy Foundation, the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, Boston College, Wheaton College and Troy University.

 

N.Y. Jewish cemetery allegedly ripped off again


The overseer of a nonprofit New York cemetery who took control after the former operators were indicted for embezzlement was charged with stealing nearly $2 million.

Timothy Griffin, 54, an attorney who stepped in to run United Hebrew Cemetery after the Staten Island burial ground’s longtime president Arthur Friedman and his wife, Ilana, were indicted for embezzling more than $1 million, was arrested on felony grand larceny charges, the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday.

Griffin, formerly the outside counsel for the United Hebrew Cemetery, is facing up to 25 years in prison, the state attorney general said. He has been overseeing the nonprofit cemetery for 14 months.

According to the indictment unsealed Monday in Richmond County Supreme Court and statements made by the prosecutor at arraignment, the attorney general’s investigation revealed that Griffin stole the money between October 2012 and January 2014, making six unauthorized wire transfers ranging from $250,000 to $385,000 to his own attorney escrow account.

Last April, Ilana Friedman was convicted of grand larceny charges for stealing more than $850,000 between 2005 and 2011. She and her husband were banned from working in the funeral or cemetery industry in New York State.

In November she paid $1.1 million in restitution and was sentenced to five years probation as part of a civil settlement agreement.

Arthur Friedman, who at different times served as superintendent, president and board chairman, was not criminally charged, but court papers said he “failed to exercise proper oversight” and “failed to implement adequate internal controls.”

Eden Cemetery trial begins


The trial in the $90 million lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery, began Feb.11 at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse downtown.

The class action suit, filed in September 2009 by attorney Michael Avenatti of the Newport Beach law firm Eagan O’Malley & Avenatti, alleges Eden’s management ordered its workers to disturb existing graves in order to fit new coffins in tight spaces.

That disturbance allegedly included breaking concrete coffins and then dumping some of the human remains when bones fell out.

F. Charles Sands, whose family is buried at Eden, and 30 other people are named as plaintiffs, and 25,000 more people have joined the suit.

Located at Sepulveda Boulevard and Rinaldi Street in Mission Hills, Eden Memorial Park is owned and operated by SCI California, a subsidiary of Texas-based Service Corp. International, one of the country’s largest operators of cemeteries and funeral services. About 40,000 people are buried at Eden, which spans 72 acres.

The alleged incidents date back to 1985, when SCI acquired the cemetery. The plaintiffs contend that Eden knowingly broke as many as 1,500 buried concrete vaults between February 1985 and September 2009. Avenatti argued that the cemetery had a financial incentive to do so.

“This conduct was deliberate, and purposeful, and driven by a desire to make more money,” Avenatti told the jury during the plaintiffs’ opening statement on Tuesday.

With Judge Marc Marmaro presiding, Avenatti introduced evidence including testimonies, aerial photographs and video surveillance that the 43-year-old attorney argued will show that Eden’s management deliberately mishandled the coffins and corpses that families entrusted to its care.

The case has faced a long road to trial, including court sanctions, state investigations, tampering with evidence and a dispute over whether Jewish jurors would compromise the neutrality of the jury.

In November 2009, state investigators reported that they found no evidence that Eden mishandled graves. Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, said at the time that investigators would have found evidence if it existed. “The kinds of things that are being alleged are not easily hidden from view,” he said.

But one year later, in November 2010, Judge Anthony J. Mohr of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the cemetery intentionally cleaned out the cemetery’s dump, where workers allegedly disposed of loose bones and broken concrete sections. In September 2009, the court ordered that all such evidence must be preserved.

For the last several years, both sides have collected extensive evidence, with the legal teams interviewing 110 people during deposition.

During jury selection in recent weeks, the defense has argued that, in order to ensure juror impartiality, it should be allowed to ask potential jurors whether they are Jewish. Marmaro declined that request, but did allow the defense to ask jurors for their religious affiliation and whether they are knowledgeable of Jewish burial law.

In the courtroom on Tuesday, Avenatti screened on a large television aerial photographs of the cemetery dump, located on the northern part of the cemetery, which was later cleaned out and developed in order to be used for additional burial plots.

“Additional dirt was brought in, placed over these remains, built up and plotted to be sold to other families,” the attorney said, before playing a video that alleges to show a groundskeeper placing a concrete block from a grave container into a tractor, which Avenatti said was collecting the debris for disposal.

He also showed the jury video depositions of former and current Eden groundskeepers acknowledging that they were ordered to break vaults if necessary, and to dispose of loose bones. He said that these people will testify on the stand during the trial. 

One of those depositions showed Darryl Bowden, a former superintendent, sales manager and general manager at Eden, confirming that three employees told him that a skull had been thrown in the cemetery dump.

After speaking for more than two hours, with short breaks, Avenatti gave the floor to defense attorney, Steven Gurnee, of Gurnee Mason & Forestieri.

“It’s a beautiful cemetery; it’s a well-run cemetery,” Gurnee opened. “What you’ve just heard is false; it does not tell the story.”

Breaking into a discussion of burials according to Jewish tradition, the defense attorney said that one of the witnesses will be Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at American Jewish University, who will clarify for the jury how burials are done according to Jewish law.

While Jewish tradition prefers for a body to come in relatively direct contact with the earth, Eden, like most cemeteries, Gurnee said, requires that all caskets be surrounded by a concrete vault, but allows for “holes [to be] drilled in the bottom to have direct access to the earth.”

Gurnee showed photographs of tree roots that appeared to have damaged a concrete vault, which would suggest that damage could have occurred that was not caused by deliberate mistreatment. Attempting to cast further doubt on the plaintiff’s assertions, Gurnee added that, when digging rocks out of the ground, those rocks can often move and cause damage to adjacent graves.

“It’s simply an accident,” Gurnee said. “These problems that are being complained of are nonexistent.”

Outside the courtroom after court adjourned, Avenatti told the Journal that the plaintiffs will seek at least $90 million in damages. During his opening statements he said that in the 24 years spanning the suit, the 25,000 people who joined the class action paid Eden more than $99 million.

Gurnee told the Journal that the plaintiffs’ allegations are false, that “there aren’t any bones being mishandled” and that he intends to show that former Eden groundskeepers who allege disturbance of graves are trying “to get back at their manager.”

On Feb. 13, following a one-day court holiday, the defense resumed and concluded its opening statement, arguing that evidence will show that if there were any incidents, they were isolated and were responded to appropriately by management. 

Over the course of the coming weeks, Gurnee’s opening statement suggested, the defense will make the case that the plaintiffs are relying heavily on testimonies of disgruntled employees who want to hurt their former bosses.

“Despite 180 inspections by the plaintiffs and their experts,” Gurnee said, “Not a single bit of evidence of mishandling remains has been discovered.”

Speaking to the jury, Gurnee concluded: “You’ll have to decide whether there’s any evidence of any kind of wrongdoing, whether our client knew about it, whether our client was aware.”

Damaged Torahs found in Iraq buried in N.Y.


Damaged Torah scrolls found by U.S. troops in Iraq’s intelligence headquarters were buried in a New York cemetery.

The burial took place Sunday at the New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, Long Island, The Associated Press reported. More than 100 people attended the ceremony in the New York City suburb, among them Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S.

“This is a statement by the government and people of Iraq that we are here to respect the heritage of the Jews,” Faily said during the ceremony, according to the AP.

Burial is the method under Jewish law of disposing of unusable religious objects and texts.

Thousands of Jewish ritual items were discovered by U.S. troops in 2003 following the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein in the waterlogged basement of Iraq’s intelligence headquarters.

The items were shipped to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for restoration. They are featured at an exhibit there through Jan. 5.

A number of Jewish groups and U.S. lawmakers have protested plans to return the items to Iraq, where there are virtually no Jews, and want the items to remain in the custody of an expatriate Iraqi Jewish community.

Restoring Mount Zion Cemetery


The headstone of Isabel Janken’s father, Henry Morhar, lies flat on the ground at Mount Zion Cemetery, knocked from its ledger. It’s an elegant headstone, weighing more than 1,000 pounds. A few feet below, an engraved picture showing a handsome Morhar is inscribed in capital letters, “Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Just a few feet away is the headstone of Isidore Goldstein, her grandfather. It, too, lies flat on the ground, but unlike Morhar’s headstone, this one had the misfortune of landing face down.

The headstone of Ned Goldstein, Janken’s uncle, is intact for now, but it leans dangerously over the cement block that shields the casket. The cement block is cracked in half and sinking into the ground. 

Only the grave of Rebecca Goldstein, Janken’s grandmother, has managed to withstand severe damage, a stroke of luck seen too rarely at this cemetery in East Los Angeles, where nearly 7,000 Jews have their final resting place. The last burial occurred seven years ago.

“I feel very bad that they are in such a place that is so neglected,” said Janken, an 85-year-old Westwood resident. “There’s no element of respect for the lives that they led.” 

Hundreds of beautiful headstones have been toppled over, cracked or shattered — many face down. Some are so heavy that as they fell on the cement block overlaying a casket, the force of the impact severely cracked the cement. 

The site’s internal roads are in desperate need of repair, the uneven and ragged grounds have little or no grass, and the untended trees are infested with rats — but those are the least of Mount Zion’s problems. What has plagued the Jewish cemetery has been a failure to curb vandalism and to repair the severe destruction caused by the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake. 

The vandalism appears to have been caused by neighborhood gangs who enter the cemetery due to inadequate fencing, according to Akiva Leyton, the funeral director at Home of Peace Memorial Park and Mortuary, one of Mount Zion’s neighboring cemeteries and operator of Mount Zion. None of the vandalism, Leyton said, appears to be motivated by anti-Semitism.

“I just feel devastated that a place like this exists in Los Angeles,” Leyton said during a recent walk through Mount Zion. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of massive headstones — works of art, really — line the rows of the cemetery that dates back to 1916. These impressive headstones would cost hundreds of dollars in the early 20th century, Leyton said, and would carry a price tag in the thousands now.

But even the heaviest headstones don’t stand a chance against a determined shove or kick, and certainly not against an earthquake. When Home of Peace employees find a headstone lying helplessly on the ground, they can’t do much. As the cemetery’s operator — not the owner — its employees can do no more than basic week-to-week maintenance. 

Bringing in contractors for serious restoration work at Mount Zion requires approval from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which agreed to become the cemetery’s custodian after the original owner, the Jewish free-burial society Chevra Chesed Shel Emeth, notified it in 1969 that it was no longer able to manage the cemetery. 

Ivan Wolkind, Federation’s chief operating and financial officer, said that for at least the past 10 years, Federation has spent about $25,000 annually on the cemetery. Every year, Home of Peace receives $12,000 from Federation to perform routine maintenance and, according to Wolkind, Federation spends about another $13,000 per year on various projects, including graffiti removal and compliance with various city ordinances.

The cemetery’s most urgent needs — repaired fencing, a new front gate, new concrete for cement ledgers and covers and, most noticeably, the repair and reattachment of hundreds of headstones — would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2007 estimate projected a cost of about $250,000 to repair more than 4,000 headstones. 

According to Wolkind and Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson, Federation’s approval for any restoration project undertaken by an outside group primarily would hinge on raising all the required money for skilled contractors in advance of beginning any work. Wolkind said his fear is that a partial job done by an unqualified contractor could leave Mount Zion “worse than what we started off with.”

That’s what happened in the early 1990s when a company was brought in to right some of the fallen headstones, according to Ted Gostin, past president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles.

“In order to do some of the concrete work, they moved the stones and didn’t know where to put them back,” he said. “It wasn’t done really well, and it created almost as many problems as it solved.”

Rabbi Moshe Greenwald of Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles is organizing a
fundraising campaign and pursuing estimates from contractors. He said that Federation should allow professional and licensed contractors to begin work even if only a portion of the required money has been raised.

“If we could fix one grave, that’s a tremendous mitzvah,” Greenwald said.

Izek Shomof, a real estate developer who has worked on several downtown restoration projects, has pledged up to $25,000 to repair an entire row of graves at Mount Zion.
Greenwald’s plan is to restore one row and then launch a campaign where any willing individuals, organizations and synagogues could sponsor the restoration of individual graves and entire rows.

“What are we waiting for?” Greenwald asked.

Sanderson, who has visited the cemetery within the past month, said that if the community is serious about fixing Mount Zion, then other parties aside from Federation have to play a role.

“I believe that we have done a community service by taking care of it to the best of our ability to this point, but it’s not coming from our budget. It’s not in our priorities,” he said. “We have to prioritize what we do with our resources and we can’t do everything, and it’s unfair to think that we can.”

Later this month, Greenwald, Sanderson and a group of local rabbis will travel to the cemetery to observe the damage. Greenwald hopes that the effect of viewing Mount Zion’s state of ruin, as a group, will help get the restoration work started.

“This is a Jewish obligation to do,”  Greenwald said. “It’s not a secondary issue.” 

Stars of David ripped from Jewish tombstones in Milan


More than a dozen tombstones at the Jewish section of Milan's main cemetery were vandalized.

Vandals over the weekend tore off Stars of David decorating some 13 tombstones. Police in the northern Italian city are investigating.

The Milan Jewish community spokesman said it was too soon to tell whether anti-Semitism or “simple theft” was behind the vandalism. Thieves are known to steal metal decorative elements from cemeteries to melt down or sell as scrap.

Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia said he “forcefully condemned” the vandalism.

“For my part, I express solidarity to the families and to the entire Jewish community,” he said in a statement. “Every act of violence, every act of lack of respect, toward whatever religion or community, is a stain that must find the unanimous condemnation of the entire city.”

Oxford medieval cemetery marked


A Jewish heritage committee in Oxford marked a medieval Jewish cemetery in the university town.

The burial site, not in use since the 1290 expulsion of the Jews from Britain, is located in the city’s Rose Garden, and was identified by Pam Manix, a historian and a member of Oxford Jewish Heritage.

The Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday that the group dedicated the granite memorial stone this week, reading Kaddish, the traditional mourner’s prayer, from a medieval siddur.

A nearby plaque in place since 1931 is covered by ivy, and its location was not as precise as the new stone.

Cemetery chief Herbert Klapper’s salary among highest in Jewish communal world


Herbert Klapper, the president of a New Jersey not-for-profit cemetery, has one of the top salaries in the Jewish communal world.

Klapper, of Cedar Park & Beth El Cemetery in Paramus, took home a base salary of $729,000 in 2009, according to tax documents, the paper reported.

The Forward’s 2011 survey of Jewish communal salaries—a survey that did not include Jewish cemeteries—found only two individuals earning more than Klapper: Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center received $739,000 in 2009, and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, received $853,000.

The paper found that only one other not-for-profit cemetery in the country with comparable revenues paid its top executive a higher salary in 2009. The cemetery, which is not Jewish, had assets 3 1/2 times larger than those of Cedar Park.

Lawrence Rose, Cedar Park’s general manager, defended Klapper’s salary.

“We have 300 acres of property and over 25,000 crypt spaces in modern beautiful buildings. There are no other facilities like ours on the East Coast,” he told the paper. “If you had visited other cemeteries, especially those in New York, you would have concluded that none offer the quality and dignity at burial, or offer mourners and visitors the opportunity to reflect in an environment like ours.”

Jewish cemetery in Poland is vandalized


Polish police are investigating the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in northeastern Poland.

Monika Krawczyk, the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, said vandals spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic images and slogans on graves, a Holocaust memorial and the entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie near Bialystok on Sunday night.

One of the slogans read “Here is Poland—not Israel,” which, according to Krawczyk, is a slogan used by Polish neo-Nazi groups. No Jews live in Wysokie.

The cemetery, which was devastated in World War II, was restored in 2006 and protected by a fence. It is maintained by the foundation.

Krawczyk said there were several anti-Semitic vandal attacks on Jewish sites in northeastern Poland in 2011. But, she said, “We had not seen an anti-Semitic attack on such a scale this year.”

Budapest Jewish cemetery being probed for corruption


Police are investigating allegations of corruption relating to fees charged for interment and other funerary arrangements at Budapest’s main Jewish cemetery.

Witnesses said police late last week conducted a search of the Jewish community’s downtown offices, including the office of the chevra kadisha, or burial society, and also at the office of the vast main Jewish cemetery on Kozma Street in an outlying district of the city.

The magazine Index in an article last week raised allegations of financial wrongdoing including embezzlement, double-entry bookkeeping and transactions without receipts in the sale of burial sites and interment services at the cemetery.

In response to the allegations, the umbrella Hungarian Jewish organization Mazsihisz issued a statement saying that the Budapest Jewish community had uncovered one case of abuse several months ago. It said the irregularity involved a false receipt issued for a sum that was not paid into the relevant account. The cemetery director was fired after repaying the money, the organization said.

“The irregularities that were committed did not involve the invoicing system of the funerary department” of the chevra kadisha, according to the Mazsihisz statement.  However, it added, “further inspections establishing possible penal responsibility and calling the perpetrators to account will remain at the discretion of the investigation department and of the court of law.”

Kosovo Jewish cemetery desecrated


Kosovo authorities are investigating the desecration Tuesday of a local Jewish cemetery. Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans were sprayed on tombstones of this old cemetery which was restored less than six months ago.

Rabbi Yoel Kaplan, Chief Rabbi of Albania and Chabad representative to the region who was designated to oversee the cemetery by the Government of Kosovo, was contacted by the Prime Minister’s office, which condemned the vandalism.

“They reassured me that the authorities are working vigorously to find the perpetrators,” Kaplan told lubavitch.com in a phone interview from Israel.

There are about 70 Jewish graves in the cemetery, which lay in disrepair for years. “It was used a soccer field, and the graves were used as goalies,” said Rabbi Kaplan.

After the renovation in June by a group of American and Kosovan students, Kaplan learned that certain groups objected to the government for its help in restoring the cemetery. Kaplan says he suspects that the complaints came from neighboring Serbia.

“As Jewish life in the Balkans experiences a renewal, we’re seeing resentment and opposition by certain organizations and groups who seem not to tolerate the Jewish revival this region is experiencing,” Kaplan said.

Rabbi Kaplan made a recommendation to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, as a cautionary measure, that security cameras be installed on the cemetery grounds.

The Prime Minister did not see reason for any real worry, said Kaplan. “We were rather optimistic. The fact is that when people in Kosovo see me—a conspicuously religious Jew—they approach with warmth and blessing. They want to learn about Judaism, and are so happy to see Jews return to this area,” said Kaplan.

President Atifete Jahjaga condemned the act. “The damaging of cemeteries presents an act in complete contradiction with the traditions and values of the people of Kosovo, based on tolerance and full respect for all the dead and all the monuments,” Jahjaga said in a statement.

Kosovo, which is largely Muslim, has a tiny population of 50 Jews. The former Serbian province declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Atlantic City Jewish cemetery vandalized


Some 15 gravestones were toppled in a Jewish cemetery in Atlantic City, N.J.

The attack on the Rodef Sholom Cemetery reportedly took place just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to the Press of Atlantic City. Police believe that more than one vandal was involved because of the heaviness of the gravestones but have no suspects.

The damage to the gravestones is fixable but will be expensive because large cranes are needed to lift the stones, the Press reported. Relatives of the deceased will be notified of the damages.

The cemetery reportedly is often a spot for drinking and drug use.

Cemetery groundskeeper Dennis Kraus told the Press that he didn’t think it was a hate crime against the Jewish people.

“I think it’s a bunch of people who probably got doped up or drunk and figured they could start knocking over stones,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, where people can’t even lay in a cemetery and rest in peace.”

Similar incidents of vandalism have occurred at the cemetery and elsewhere in the area. In 2006, vandals overturned 35 gravestones at the Rodef Sholom Cemetery, and another 20 at a nearby cemetery. The perpretrators, who were intoxicated while committing the crime, received fines and jail time.

Holocaust victims reburied in Romanian Jewish cemetery


The remains of dozens of Jews killed by Romanian troops during the Holocaust and found in a mass grave were reburied in a Jewish cemetery.

The unidentified remains of at least 40 Jewish victims were reburied on Monday in the Jewish cemetery of Iasi in northeastern Romania.

The bodies were discovered by archeologists near the village of Popricani last November, according to reports. The victims were killed there in the summer of 1941. More than 15,000 Jews were killed in Iasi during pogroms in 1941.

Five American and British rabbis officiated Monday at a memorial service for the unidentified victims.

Snow dumping topples headstones in Brooklyn cemetery


New York City snow removal trucks dumped tons of snow from the area’s recent blizzard into the city’s largest Jewish cemetery, toppling 21 headstones.

An iron fence around Brooklyn’s Washington Cemetery also was damaged when crews from the Sanitation Department dumped the snow into the cemetery over New Year’s weekend, the New York Post reported Wednesday.

The damage was discovered Sunday. Family members of some relatives buried in the cemetery have visited in recent days to check on the graves.

Several cars parked next to the cemetery also were buried; some were damaged.

The cemetery reportedly will file a claim with the city.

The blizzard that hit the New York metropolitan area Dec. 26-27 dropped 2 feet or more of snow in some spots.