Vandals damage Jewish cemetery

Julian Albright, Web Editor

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Over President’s Day weekend, vandals desecrated more than 150 headstones in the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery, located in University City at the corner of Hanley and Olive. At this point, no suspects have been arrested.

The vandalism was centered mostly on the older graves, placed there in the 1920s and 1930s. Headstones were knocked over, broken and scattered. The older ones would naturally be easier to harm because of age and wear.

The first reports of the vandalism came to the police around 8 am on Monday. Police said they don’t know who is responsible, but cameras in and around the cemetery are being checked for relevant evidence.

This vandalism of a small St. Louis Jewish cemetery quickly made its way to national news, making a top story on CNN by Monday evening. The event affected University City fast and strong, and the city was looking for a way to bring people together.

By Wednesday afternoon, a clean-up event and interfaith service was organized for people of all religions, race and cultures to come together at the cemetery and show respect and support for the Jewish community. Lines to get in started forming even before students got out of school at 2:20 pm and there were easily over 500 people who attended.

“It was nice to see a lot of people be supportive and see the community actually come out,” Daniel Gibson, junior, said.

Many groups and organizations attended the event, including members of Alpha Epsilon Pi and Zeta Beta Tau, Jewish fraternities from Washington University. There were also groups of high school students from University City, Parkway Central and Ladue.

“It’s sad to think someone would do that,” said Ben Shostak, sophomore.

However as sad as many people in community may feel, it brought people together.

“It felt great being part of something on national news,” said Shostak. “It was heartwarming to see all the people who turned out. It definitely bonded us as a community.”

Once again, this event was not only for the Jewish community. There were plenty of blacks, Muslims, Indians, Christians and others. In fact, in just over 24 hours, an online fundraiser at LaunchGood.com, encouraged Muslims to donate to help repair vandalism at the Jewish cemetery raised almost $125,000.

“It’s important to understand the issues between each other,” Clayton Miller, junior, said. “It’s important to educate yourself.”

As a Jewish adult and teacher, Matthew Horn, history teacher, believes that he has a responsibility to take action during this period.

“It’s sad that anti-Semitism still exists on this scale,” Horn said; “Not surprising, but it’s sad. Teachers have a responsibility to stand up against hatred and these types of acts.”

The new Missouri governor, Eric Greitens and Vice-President Mike Pence took a stand by showing up at the cemetery event on Wednesday.

Pence only stayed for a few minutes, but Greitens stayed, spoke publically and helped out.

Much of the community, because Greitens himself is Jewish, was excited to see him lend support, talk and take pictures.

Greitens took the platform and spoke forcefully about the desecration.

“We come together today to let those families know that we’re going to make sure that we preserve the blessed memories of their parents, grandparents and their great grandparents,” Greitens said.

Although the event was powerful and a large amount of people showed up, it still can not be proven that this was an anti-Semitic hate crime.

Usually, if there is an anti-Semitic act, neo-Nazis will leave a painted Swastika or a flag.

“If it was a true anti-Semitic act, you would see some sort of marking,” Horn said. “However, it very well could be a hate crime.”

And in light of other anti-Semitic events, the public would have reason to believe that the attack on the cemetery was anti-Semitic. On Monday alone, there were 11 different bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers (JCC), contributing to the nearly 70 bomb threats this year.

As St. Louis continues to push through this hard time, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch is looking for ways to combat the crime.

Welsch is trying to organize an event on Sunday, Feb. 26 for people who are interested in coming together to support the community. She plans to organize a “vigil” or some other event to bring people together and make clear that the acts against the cemetery will not be tolerated in University City.

“Unity is always important,” said Horn. “Unity is what you need.”

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Vandals damage Jewish cemetery