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.”

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 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 (

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. 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 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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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 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.

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.

In saving Jewish remnants in Galicia, an effort to enlist Ukrainians

On a sloping green hill tucked between small farmsteads, the mottled graves of Jews buried here since the 1600s rise up like a forgotten forest.

Trudging through the mud between the tilted stones, their chiseled Hebrew lettering and renderings of menorahs sometimes barely visible, Vladimer Levin, an animated young historian who specializes in Jewish art, wants to save the gravestones.

“When we talk about preserving Jewish history, it’s not just about the spiritual life, thought and books but the material culture Jews produced for themselves. And that is what remains in this place,” he said, looking at the tombstones. “They are the artistic remnants of this small Jewish community.”

Levin, a 39-year-old immigrant to Israel from St. Petersburg, Russia, is part of a team of Israeli historians attempting to document what remains of a once populous and vibrant Jewish life in the regions of Galicia and Bukovina, most of which is in the western edge of present-day Ukraine.

As part of efforts to recover the world that once was in these towns and shtetls, where some 1 million Jews lived before the Holocaust, the researchers are partnering with Ukrainian academics. The idea is not only to boost the level of scholarship but to highlight to Ukrainian locals a Jewish past that spanned centuries but is rarely remembered publicly in the country.

“Jewish history is not part of the agenda” in Ukraine, said Yaroslav Hrystak, director of graduate studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University, which has partnered with the Israeli researchers. “It’s like a whole subject that disappeared.”

The project aims to collect oral testimony and document cemeteries and synagogues left derelict or used for such purposes as canning factories to storage space, and enlist young Ukrainian historians to do Jewish-related scholarship. An online database has been established on the project’s website to make the research widely accessible. The project also has set up a scholarship for Ukrainian graduate students to spend a year at Hebrew University to learn Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish.

“Records are being lost in front of us, and so the goal is collection and preservation,” said David Wallach, a professor of molecular biology at Israel’s Weizmann Institute who is among the group of families that helped establish a fund called the Ludmer Project to help pay for the research.

Academics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are overseeing the project with the hope of including other universities.

Wallach, 64, became intrigued by the region’s history after his father’s death. He found among his father’s belongings a black suitcase crammed with photographs and documents he had taken with him from Bukovina before immigrating to prestate Palestine in 1932.

“There is an urgent need for this research,” said Wallach, a tall man with a graying beard.

His relatives came from various parts of Galicia, including a former shtetl called Nardvirna where Gestapo units assisted by local Ukrainians rounded up most of the town’s Jews on Sukkot of 1941. With whips and dogs, the 3,500 or so Jews were herded into a nearby forest and shot, their bodies dropping into ditches.

Here the complete destruction of the country’s Jewish communities is marked with little commemoration or public knowledge. No haunting edifices of concentration camps like Auschwitz, in neighboring Poland, stand as testimony.

The collection of oral testimonies from Ukrainians who were old enough to bear witness to this period and prewar Jewish life is part of the project’s mission.

Among the grimmer tales collected in Solotyvin was information on the approximate location of a communal grave of Jewish doctors and pharmacists and their families who were killed after most of the village’s Jews were rounded up. The grave was dug near the cemetery’s entrance, locals recalled, although no one could be sure if it was to the left or the right of the path that divides the hundreds of tombstones.

They also told of a doctor’s young son who was found hiding and brought to the cemetery to be shot and buried.

“My parents did not speak. These were not things you told children about,” Wallach said, adding that his mother only warned him of her birthplace, “Don’t go there; the land is soaked in blood.”

Now he is spearheading efforts to solicit funds and assistance to keep the project going. For Wallach it has become a mission to honor the lives lived in a world that no longer exists. Along with a small group of historians and journalists, including JTA, Wallach traveled to the southern side of Galicia last month to see some of the project’s past and future work. 

“We want to go beyond the Shoah,” said Levin, who led the tour along with fellow Hebrew University historian Semion Goldin, director of the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and European Jewry. “Before people were killed, they lived many generations in these places. We are the result of these lives.”

In a small white van careening down pot-holed roads deep in the countryside, one of the stops was a small town known as Podhajce (Pidhaistsi in Ukrainian), an important place on the Jewish map during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the hometown of several rabbis who went on to prominence in other parts of Europe.

Podhajce once was a walled town, an embattled place that found itself under successive attack over the centuries from raiding armies including the Tartars, Cossacks, Nazis and eventually the Soviets.

Along a narrow road, a stone-faced building rises far above the surrounding tin roofs of the neighboring houses, the oldest standing structure in the town. It is a synagogue built in the early 17th century with soaring Gothic windows. The massive buttresses on its south side suggest it may have been used as what is known as a fortress synagogue intended to shelter locals and withstand attacks.

A corrugated roof was put on during the Soviet era, but inside the building is dark and abandoned. A packed dirt floor is littered with broken bottles and the odd discarded shoe. Its thick plaster walls house a deep niche, the former site of its holy ark. 

Budget allowing, the historians plan to return with a team of Israeli and Ukrainian architectural students next summer to document the structure with measurements and photographs. But they fear that the the building, in such poor shape, might not last another winter.

They also plan to document the town’s Jewish cemetery next summer. Dozens of rows of graves already are gone, leaving a massive gap between the headstones. They were taken away by locals for paving stones, some of which make up part of the stairs leading out of the cemetery.

“If the past is being erased, our response is to study, preserve and document,” said Wallach, adding the Talmudic maxim, “You are not obliged to finish the task but neither are you free to walk away from it.”

Tehran cemetery Web site links local Persians to Iran

Nearly four years ago, Shahram Farzan, an Iranian Jew living in Los Angeles, traveled to Tehran to have a hand-carved marble tombstone placed on his father’s grave at the Jewish cemetery, which has been called “beheshtieh” by the city’s Jewry for more than half a century. (The word beheshtieh is Persian for “heavenly place.”)

After Farzan had photographed his father’s new tombstone, he was inspired to create a Web site — — to share what he had seen. For the next two months, Farzan painstakingly cleaned and photographed nearly 80 percent of the graves at the 20-acre cemetery, so that the exiled Iranian Jewish community in Southern California could view their loved ones’ gravesites online.

“After the revolution, many people lost their ties to Iran and to the cemetery because it was not a priority,” said Farzan, 52. “I thought by taking these photographs of the graves, their relatives living in Beverly Hills would maybe see this and realize that the world is not just about money and power.”

For the past three years, Farzan, who owns a Los Angeles demolition business, spent his own funds and his spare time translating, cataloging and posting more than 10,000 photographs in preparation for the Web site’s launch last June. Each photo is accompanied by English translations listed beneath.

Many of the tombstones are made from white marble and have elaborate hand-carved designs, including Stars of David, menorahs and inscriptions in both Persian and Hebrew. Others are just mounds of earth without a proper headstone or identifying marker. And many of the tombstones have been damaged by poor weather and lack of upkeep, Farzan said.

“On the grounds of the cemetery, I saw a lot of used drug needles, roaming dogs, trash dumped everywhere, a greenhouse with shattered windows and some homeless people loitering there,” Farzan said.Despite the cemetery’s worn condition, Farzan spoke only praise for the remaining Jews of Iran who, he said, have not abandoned the site.

He was also appreciative that the Iranian government has not allowed developers to build on the site, as has happened in some non-Jewish cemeteries in the country.

“I think the Iranian government has been very respectful for keeping the cemetery and not demolishing it,” Farzan said. “Historically, from the time of Abraham, we are cousins with Muslims and must foster better relations with them.”

Not all the Jews buried in Tehran’s Jewish cemetery are of Iranian heritage. The cemetery is also home to more than 60 European Jews who escaped Nazi Europe for Iran in the early 1940s and died there, Farzan said.

The Jewish community in Iran has never had a mortuary business. Traditionally, Jewish volunteers donated funds and physically helped with preparations for burial of the dead; volunteers included some of the most affluent businessmen in the community.

Woodland Hills resident Yusef Hendizadeh, 80, who volunteered at the cemetery from the 1940s until the 1970s, is one of the original caretakers of Tehran’s Jewish cemetery.

“I was a very successful businessman in the fabrics business; they [community leaders] came to me and gave me the responsibility of helping the community with their burial needs,” Hendizadeh said in his native Persian tongue. “At that time, there was a difficult road to travel to the cemetery, so we had to carry the bodies by a horse-drawn carriage; later the community helped pay for a car.”

According to Dr. Habib Levy’s “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran” (Mazda Publishers, 1999), the site for Tehran’s Jewish cemetery was also used as a temporary refugee camp, housing thousands of Iranian and Iraqi Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. Many had fled their homes out of fear of being killed after Israel declared its independence.

Perhaps one of the best-known Jewish burial grounds in Iran is the traditional site of the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, located in the city of Hamadan. Although Iranian Jews have long believed that the tombs belong to Esther and Mordecai, historians and archeologists note a lack of solid evidence.

“The great archeologist Ernst Herzfeld, in his book, suspected that Esther and Mordechai were buried there,” Amnon Netzer, professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Journal in 2005. “But [he] later indicated that he believed Shushandokht, a Jewish woman who was the wife of Yazgerd I, an Iranian king, is buried there.”

Netzer also said the tomb of the Jewish biblical prophet Daniel is located in the southern Iranian city of Susa, and is visited by both Jews and Muslims.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said Farzan’s photos of Jewish gravesites also serve an important role in preserving historical records of Iran’s Jewry dating back more than 2,500 years.

“Some of these sites are older than the Talmud; some are as old as Queen Esther,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation. “In the absence of any other guaranteed alternatives, photographs may be the best option for preserving at least the memories of these sites.”

Farzan said he would like to return to Iran and photograph the graves at various other Jewish cemeteries in the cities of Esfahan, Kermanshah, Kashan, Rezaeh, Shiraz, Sanandj and Yazd.

Kermanian said local Iranian Jews are looking to help Farzan expand his efforts in photographing and recording various significant Jewish burial sites throughout Iran.

Representatives from the Jewish Central Committee of Tehran, who control the cemetery, indicated in a written statement that there are plans to transform a chapel on the grounds of the cemetery into a small museum honoring those who helped establish the cemetery in 1933.

Farzan said he is seeking online donations from those using the site. The funds will be used for maintenance and new landscaping renovations for Tehran’s Jewish cemetery as well as to build a small memorial to Tehran’s Jewish cemetery at Groman Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.

“We must pay our respects to the past generations lying in that cemetery [who] sacrificed by enduring hardship while holding onto their Judaism, which we still have today,” Farzan said.

We’d All Rather Be in Venice

“What a bunch of shleppers,” my father remarks, his head doing a 180-degree pan as he takes in the view. “Not one of them has anything unique to say. Such
conformists. Just looking at them makes me nauseous.”

I turn to look, so that I, too, can take in the same view. Yes, we’re at the cemetery, looking at a hillside dotted with graves marked with headstones. It’s a quiet, pastoral setting. No one is saying much, except my father, who as usual can’t — or won’t — stop talking. This particular rant has been a perennial, ongoing drama in my family’s life, ever since my mother died.

It’s been two years this week since my mother, Betty Switkes, died, and we still haven’t had the unveiling. Jewish custom dictates that you unveil the headstone a year after the person dies, but my father has not found the right stone or the right words to inscribe on that stone, so she rests in this unmarked grave. People who pass by this spot might suspect the person buried here is a forgotten soul, but nothing could be further from the truth. She is the focus of his obsession.

He explains to me and anyone else who cares to listen: “The stone should tell the world what a unique person she was. Not just her name and her dates, but it should say something about her.”

“How about beloved wife and mother?” I offer.

“No! Every headstone says that. Look around you. Beloved wife and mother. Beloved wife and mother. Dime a dozen. Not at all unique.”

“She was uniquely your wife and my mother.”

“You don’t understand what I’m trying to do,” he stresses.

Actually I do. He doesn’t want to say goodbye. Once we have the unveiling, then what? As long as he can put this final ritual on hold, he can postpone that final farewell.

“When Betty died, half of me died,” he says.

He talks about her: “She did so much with her life. We threw the best parties. She was the greatest hostess. And her charity work. Always volunteering, always helping someone. And her exercise. She was a pioneer. She developed special exercises for the elderly. Seniorcize. I want to put all that on her headstone. So people know who they are dealing with.”

Note the present tense.

“Do you really want the headstone to look like a resume?” I ask. “Besides, everyone who knew her knows what she accomplished. And everyone who didn’t know her never will.”

He doesn’t hear me.

My father has decided on a double headstone, and that makes sense. They shared a bed for 56 years, so they should share a grave.

But that further complicates the problem of finding the appropriate inscription. If there’s a unique inscription on my mother’s side of the stone, then there must be a comparable inscription on my father’s side. It has to be balanced. Maybe the inscription should be about their life together.

“Write one inscription that applies to both of you. Perhaps something about your marriage,” I offer.

His face lights up. I suggest: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
He rejects it: “Absolutely not. That’s on every ketubbah ever written. C’mon. Think outside the box.”

Here we come to the crux of the problem. Joe Switkes is loud, fun and eccentric. He’s brilliant, expressive and totally unreasonable, a man of action, bold action. And death is the state that has no verb. Talk about irreconcilable differences.

He’s thinking about their marriage and fondly recalls the days they spent at Venice Beach, playing in the sand with their granddaughter.

How about, “We’d rather be in Venice,” I offer.

He laughs.

“That’s good. It takes it away from all this depressing stuff you see around here. I want our headstone to be unique and fun,” he explains.
But then I have second thoughts. When I’m looking at my parents’ grave, I don’t want fun.

He takes another stab at it. How about, “Betty was beautiful and caring, and Joe was smart and humorous.”

I say, “Dad, don’t clutter up the headstone with a lot of adjectives, it’ll read like a profile on JDate.”

He comes back with, “Together they lived a life that was a joy, an adventure and lots of laughs.”

I don’t think so. “Keep it dignified and sparse. Think poetry, not prose.”
Valiantly, the whole family pitches in, making suggestions. My husband suggests, “Beauty and the Beast.” Mom was like Belle – beautiful, well read and independent. Dad is like the Beast, a true prince with a heart of gold, but one must first deal with his hideous temper.

We all howl with laughter. It seems perfect, but then Dad has second thoughts. Beauty and the Beast strikes him as juvenile, and he’s not convinced that all of their friends will “get it.”

I turn to Ecclesiastes and read this beautiful passage:

Kids Learn Burial Rites From Barney

Their bagels sliced, toasted and slathered with cream cheese, the parents and students of the fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Santa Monica’s Sha’arei Am turn toward Rabbi Jeff Marx as he welcomes them to Family Education Day.

His introduction is interrupted by Lori Daitch, the director of education. The suddenly somber rabbi informs the group that he has just learned that Barney, a congregant, whose real name is Bernard Dinotzuris, has just collapsed in the sanctuary.

With much giggling, and a touch of consternation, the group enters the sanctuary where the purple plush 3-foot-tall Dinotzuris is sprawled near the pulpit.

“What should I do?” the rabbi asks, appropriately concerned.

A call to 911 leads to the swift arrival of a “paramedic,” in vest and plastic firefighter’s hat. He takes a good look at the patient, does a bit of CPR and announces that Bernard is most certainly and irretrievably dead.

This is, in fact, the fourth time Bernard has passed away. For the past four years, Marx has conducted this discussion on the Jewish rites and rituals surrounding death. The participating parents have all been informed of the contents of the session in advance. For the students, depending on the efficacy of the sibling grapevine, it is more or less a surprise.

“What do we now? ” the rabbi asks.

The kids boisterously offer solutions, ranging from a toss in the Dumpster to cremation.

“Well,” Marx says. “As it happens, Bernard had written me a letter saying he wants to be buried.”

When someone dies, the rabbi explains, mortuaries take care of the body. Jason Schwartz, a teacher, who was just the paramedic, now returns as the “Man From the Mortuary.” Carefully lifting Bernard onto a book cart transformed into a gurney, he efficiently wheels him away.

The giggling has stopped; kids who had been jostling and fidgeting have found seats near their parents.

It’s an impressive transformation.

With Bernard on his way to the mortuary, the rabbi fields questions on Jewish burial rituals and beliefs on tattoos, cremation, embalming, organ donation and much more.

Everyone knows that a speedy burial is important, and the discussion ends as the students and parents, accompanied by teachers Schwartz and Jennifer Flam, head for the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary.

“I’ve wanted to do a program on death for a long time,” Marx says on the way to the cemetery. “It’s good for the kids, but lots of parents haven’t had much experience dealing with questions of death and dying either. My congregation is the sandwich generation, caring for both their children and their parents. This is education about the real world,” he said.

The real world, but in fuzzy purple and green.

“Our first problem was to figure out what we would do for a body,” he says. “We hit on Barney as the perfect solution — he was no longer an object of attachment for fourth and fifth graders, but they were completely familiar with him.”

Michael and Elaine Sachs attended the first burial of Barney in 2003 with their older daughter Rebecca. Six months later, Elaine Sachs, 41, suffered an aortic aneurysm while on a Girl Scout camping trip with Rebecca, and could not be resuscitated.

Michael Sachs remembers that he had initially thought that a program on death wasn’t really important for people in their 40s.

“But, in fact,” he now says, “I learned things I assumed I wouldn’t need to think about for many years. I thought the program dealt with potentially distressing material in a nonthreatening, matter-of-fact fashion,” he said.

“Even under the shock and duress, the fact that we’d gone through that program, made the process somewhat more manageable and less difficult,” he says. “As a part of Jewish education and life experience, I now feel that it’s almost essential.”

Even when the experience does not become as immediately and painfully relevant as it did for the Sachs family, programs such as these help children understand that death and dying is an open topic for discussion.

“It’s always helpful to children to give them experiences of seeing death as a normal part of life,” said Natalie Levine, program director of Family Service of Santa Monica, a division of Vista del Mar Child and Family.

“Children in the fourth and fifth grade don’t yet think abstractly, so this emphasis on the concrete steps taken when someone dies helps them manage their emotions,” she added.

When the cars full of kids from the Santa Monica Synagogue pull up at Hillside’s Chapel, Jill Glasband, the mortuary’s director of community outreach is waiting.

She gives a tour of the premises, including the casket selection room, as well as displays of shrouds and caskets and urns for cremation.

In the chapel, with Bernard Dinotzuris settled into a simple pine casket, the rabbi delivers a eulogy. Students, enlisted as pallbearers, carry the casket to the hearse. They proceed to the far end of the cemetery, where the rabbi leads a brief graveside service.

This year, Hillside has prepared a marker for the grave, so with a quick flash forward, the group moves a few feet and a year into the future for an unveiling of Bernard Dinotzuris’ gravestone.

All services concluded, the group disperses. As they look at gravestones, noting the life spans of grandparents as well as young children, everyone seems engrossed in quiet conversations — ones that will no doubt continue.


Looking for A Legend

Years ago I’d heard from someone or read somewhere that Wyatt Earp is buried in Colma, near San Francisco, a bit of provocative trivia whose truth I’d never been sure of. One day a while back I decided to check it out. I would have thought that one of the most famous figures in the history of the Old West would have ended up in the landscape of his legend. In the case of Wyatt Earp, this would mean Dodge City, Wichita, or more appropriately, Tombstone.

As a boy, I watched Wyatt Earp gun down, pistol whip and give barefisted beatings to legions of outlaws and romance plenty of clear-eyed frontier beauties in countless movies and TV shows. Saying the name now, even with the hindsight of adult skepticism, stirs up a chill of the old childhood wonder, which is why after all these years I found myself on my way to Colma looking for the final word in the legend of Wyatt Earp.

Colma is a necropolis a few miles south of San Francisco, the place to which the city’s dead were removed in 1914 and where they have been buried ever since, near the Serramonte Shopping Center in Daly City. Several cemeteries line both sides of El Camino Real, many catering to specific religious or ethnic groups — Japanese, Chinese, Italians, Jews, Greeks, etc.

I went with a friend, and we picked out a cemetery office at random, went in and asked the people behind the counter if they could tell us where Wyatt Earp was buried. After a couple such tries, we were told to try the Hills of Eternity Cemetery. Pulling up the entrance, we read the sign:

Hills of Eternity
Portals of Eternity
Gardens of Eternity
Temple Sherith Israel

I was surprised that it was an exclusively Jewish cemetery.

At the end of the driveway, hundreds, seemingly thousands, of headstones and monuments stretched back along a low slope. We got out of the car, and an old-timer wearing a Hills of Eternity baseball cap sitting in a nearby blue station wagon noticed us. After watching us look indecisively at the countless headstones for a few moments, he called, "You boys looking for Wyatt Earp?"

"Do many people come out here looking for him?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, five or six a week," he said. "There are always people, all kinds of cowboys come out looking for his grave. He’s the most visited man in Colma."

We followed the foreman’s directions, walked up the hill past headstones and monuments of every size and imposing crypts. We found the spot — his name was on one of two flat metal plaques set into cement and seemed almost inconspicuous.

Wyatt Earp, 1848-1929

Josephine Earp, 1861-1944

And sharing the same plot:

Max Weiss, 1870-1947

Wyatt Earp is buried in a Jewish cemetery, surrounded by tombstones adorned with stone doves, Stars of David and menorahs, amid a sprinkling of palm trees. All my life I had never given any thought to his ethnic background, but now found myself wondering if Earp is a Jewish name or if his wife was Jewish. And who was Max Weiss, the man buried beside them? Had Max Weiss been Wyatt Earp’s agent?

Wyatt Earp was not Jewish, but his wife was. "Pioneer Jews" by Harriet and Fred Rochlin offers a portrait of her life, much of which is drawn from a book titled "I Married Wyatt Earp."

The book tells how Josephine Weiss ran away from her parents in San Francisco when she was 15 to the Arizona Territory as a cast member of Pauline Markham Troupe’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s "H.M.S. Pinafore." She was apprehended and returned to San Francisco but in the meantime had acquired a suitor, Johnny Behan, who followed her back to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. Josephine then went with Behan to Tombstone where, after the romance soured, she met Wyatt Earp, then a deputy sheriff, proprietor of the Oriental Saloon, and married to his second wife, Mattie. A love affair ensued.

Wyatt and Josephine spent nearly 50 years together, moving around the West. Despite her claim that they were married, no record of the marriage has been found. At one point they operated a saloon in Nome, Ala., during the Klondike gold rush. Ultimately they settled in Los Angeles, where Wyatt hoped to cash in on his experiences through the movie industry, but it never happened.

"Wyatt’s family were almost all gone and we had no children. My only home was where my parents rest. So I took Wyatt’s ashes to San Francisco," Josephine Earp wrote about her husband’s burial.

Looking at a photograph of the real Wyatt Earp, I wonder to what extent his legend followed him during his lifetime. Of all the actors who have played him (Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Hugh O’Brian, Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott, among others), the first was Walter Huston in "Law and Order," which came out in 1931, two years after Wyatt was brought to Colma. I wonder what those last 30 years must have been like for a man who saw the frontier close, gave up his guns and horses, and became part of a world in which the changes made were total and spectacular: seeing the coming of electric lights, telephones, motion pictures, airplanes, automobiles, radio, machine guns, battleships, comic strips, neon signs and zippers.

Whatever the truth was about Wyatt Earp’s life as a lawman and the gunfight at O.K. Corral, the romance and the legend endure, as they will. As for the real Wyatt Earp, he lies in the earth a short drive from a shopping center in a place far from any drifting tumbleweeds or howling coyotes.

But well over half a century after his death, the visitors keep finding him. The cowboys come to stand among the stones and hold their hats in their hands while saying a few quiet words or thinking a few private thoughts before walking back down the slope to drive off in their pickups or Japanese cars.


Building a Bridge

The new Israeli consul for communications hopes to create dialogue between Israel and Jewish communities in the United States

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Young Arthur Lenk, a native of Patterson, N.J., was at his desk in the protocol division of the Israeli foreign ministry, when the radio flashed the news that Yitzhak Rabin has been assassinated.

His immediate assignment: to make all arrangements for the visit of 14 heads of state from the Middle East and Africa, who would arrive for the state funeral of the slain prime minister two days hence.

“I didn’t sleep for three days,” Lenk recalls, sitting in his office at the Israel consulate general in Los Angeles. “I didn’t have time to mourn. It didn’t hit me until much later.”

Five weeks afterward, his second daughter was born, who was named Ilana Rabin Lenk.

As the newly arrived consul for communications and public affairs, the 34-year-old Lenk doesn’t expect quite as intense an experience here, but he takes his new assignment seriously.

“As an Israeli who is a product of the American Jewish community, I hope to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Jewish communities of the southwestern United States,” he says. “My goal is to create a dialogue between equals.”

Pointing to the often acrimonious confrontations centering on the conversion bill and religious plurality in Israel, Lenk believes that “there have been many misconceptions on both sides. We have to learn to listen to each other, because we’re in this together.”

Lenk was raised in New Jersey in a traditional home, attended a “Conservative/Orthodox” day school, and after high school went to Israel to study at Hebrew University.

Two years later, he enlisted in the army, because “that’s the admission fee to be an Israeli.” A more pragmatic inducement for joining up was because “that’s where the girls were. And if you wanted to meet them, you had to speak Hebrew.”

After serving as a medic for 2 1/2 years, he went back to Hebrew University as a law student, and eventually passed the bar examinations in both Israel and New York state.

“I practiced business and trade law in Jerusalem for several years, and hated every minute of it,” he says. When he noticed a recruiting ad in a newspaper placed by the foreign ministry, he responded and changed his career path.

For the past two years, Lenk has been the cultural affairs consul at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi. Among other accomplishments, he introduced Indians to their first encounter with a klezmer band.

Lenk is awaiting the arrival of his wife, Ruth, also an American-born Israeli and a graphic artist, with their two young daughters.

He has found an apartment not far from the Israeli consulate. “If it weren’t illegal in Los Angeles,” he says, “I would walk to work.”

A Final Resting Place?

Hollywood Memorial Park faces closure unless a buyercomes to the rescue

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Photos by Peter Halmagyi

Hollywood Memorial Park is the cemetery of the stars, and rightnow it is starring in a cliffhanger of its own.

At stake is whether the memorial park, whose graves and cryptshold the last remains of Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, DouglasFairbanks Sr., Tyrone Power and John Huston, will remain open andfunctioning, or whether it will be padlocked and abandoned.

Equally atstake is the future of Beth Olam Cemetery, the park’s Jewish sectionand the last resting place of an estimated 20,000 Jews, includingactors Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Lorre and Mel Blanc,producers Harry Cohn and Jesse Lasky, composer Erich WolfgangKorngold, and mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

In the worst-case scenario, the entire place will be closed down,thus barring mourners from visits to relatives’ graves and deprivingothers of their pre-paid plots and mausoleum niches.

In a happier ending, a responsible buyer will ride to the rescueat the last moment and not only keep the memorial park open but,hopefully, restore neglected buildings and grounds to their formerglory.

At press time, the final outcome was still uncertain.

The Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, to give its full name, wasfounded in 1899 by two historical figures, I.N. Van Nuys and Col.J.B. Lankershim. It stretched over 100 acres south of Santa MonicaBoulevard and east of Gower Street. Later, the southernmost 40 acreswere sold to the expanding Paramount Studios.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged some of the structures andgrounds at the cemetery, which is operated as a for-profit business.The following year, alleged questionable business practices by theformer owners, which depleted the endowment funds for care andmaintenance, came to a head and accelerated the downward spiral.

In late 1995, the state Department of Consumer Affairs seized thecemetery’s records. During the first half of last year, the cemeteryfiled for bankruptcy, further sales of plots were prohibited, and acourt-appointed trustee took over daily operations.

For more than a year, the trustees have looked for a buyer to takeover the cemetery, but have found no takers. In a last-ditch efforttwo weeks ago, the trustees held a nationally advertised auction.

The only bid came from Buck Kamphausen, a successful operator ofcemeteries in Sacramento and Fresno, who offered $275,000.

Now enter another party — the Heritage Auxiliary Company, a CoastFederal Bank affiliate that holds the mortgage on the cemetery.Heritage is owed $2.7 million for pre-bankruptcy loans extended toHollywood Memorial. Before the auction, it announced that it wouldentertain a bid of at least $500,000.

Currently, Heritage and Kamphausen are in negotiations, and it isreported that the gap over the sales price has narrowed considerably.

A court hearing has been set for Dec. 10, and it will likelydetermine the future of Hollywood Memorial and Beth Olam cemeteries.

Meanwhile, three major players are working intensively to save thecemetery, while fielding hundreds of phone calls from worriedcitizens.

One is David Isenberg, attorney for the trustees, who has beentrying to bring the cemetery’s plight to the notice of the media andthe general public.

Another is Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, whosedistrict includes the cemetery. Goldberg vows that she is absolutelycommitted to saving Hollywood Memorial and that “there is no way wewill abandon it.”

Her deputy, Roxana Tynan, has been canvassing motion picturestudios and charities and says that she has had some encouragementfrom neighboring Paramount.

She is also seeking city and state support and hopes to have thecemetery recognized as a national historical monument, which mightunlock funds from the Getty and other foundations.

She is also considering an approach to the Los Angeles Times.After all, the daily’s founder, Gen. Harris Gray Otis, and hissuccessor, Harry Chandler, rest under tombstones at the cemetery.

Another activist is Lauri Lopp, an executive with the Bank ofHollywood and a volunteer ambassador for the Hollywood Chamber ofCommerce.

As a banker, Lopp judges that a settlement between Coast Federaland Kamphausen is feasible. She reserves high praise for Homer Alba,the cemetery’s office manager, who has been “polishing tombstones”and trying in other ways to maintain the grounds, said Lopp.

Concerned persons are encouraged to call Tynan at Goldberg’soffice at (213) 913-4693. If she is not in, leave a message for her,including your name, address and phone number.