Headstones toppled at a historic cemetery that serves the Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, were determined to be due to neglect, not vandalism.
The fallen headstones at the Washington Cemetery was discovered on Saturday night, according to reports. At first vandalism was suspected.
New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind tweeted photos of some of the downed headstones on Saturday night. He said he was alerted to the toppled headstones by the Boro Park Shomrim organization, a Jewish security patrol.
At a press conference on Sunday morning, Assemblyman Hikind said: “More than 40 headstones were overturned. It’s heartbreaking—not just to the loved ones of those who are buried here, but to all of us. Is there anything more cowardly than desecrating a cemetery in the middle of the night?”
“Anti-Semitism exists, but we don’t have to tolerate it, and we won’t. I can promise you that. I met with the police this morning at the cemetery, the top brass from Brooklyn South, and I see that this matter is being taken very seriously. When the criminals who did this are caught, we will demand and expect real justice.”
The New York Police Department’s hate crimes unit investigated the incident. Following the investigation on Sunday, the NYPD said it determined that the damage was old and due to neglect and harsh weather conditions.
“It was old damage, years if not decades,” old, an NYPD spokesman told DNAInfo.
In 2010, some 200 headstones were toppled in the same Brooklyn cemetery, over a Friday night and Saturday, when the cemetery is closed.
Three Jewish cemeteries were reported to have been vandalized in the last two weeks, including a second one in New York, the Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester. Dozens of gravestones were toppled and damaged at cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia as well.
Jewish leaders in New York, however, are disputing the New York Police Department’s finding that 42 headstones toppled in a Brooklyn cemetery are the result of neglect.
The headstones reportedly toppled on Saturday night at the cemetery originally were thought to have been the work of a vandal or vandals, following the vandalism of three other cemeteries – in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Rochester - in the last two weeks.
Hikind told the New York Post late on Sunday that the people who reported the damage to him had never noticed it before despite walking by the cemetery every week to go to synagogue services.
“The people who first reported this to us were individuals who walk by … on the way to synagogue on Shabbos, and they were the ones who saw something that looked wrong to them,’’ Hikind told the newspaper. “If they had seen the toppled stones before,’’ they would have reported it.
He added: “We’re not talking about stones that are down, that they want to repair. We’re talking about tombstones where if you look at it, you say, ‘Someone vandalized it.’”
Hikind, as well as city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield, also told the newspaper that police discovered a 3-foot hole cut into a razor-wire fence near the section of the cemetery containing the damaged headstones, which Hikind called an “obvious” breach.
Cemetery General Manager Marisa Tarantino told the Post that when headstones in the older sections fall over they move them over the grave so that the spot remains memorialized. Cemetery workers concluded that many of the downed headstones noticed by the passers-by had fallen down over time.
Moreover, it was reported that former New York City Councilman and current Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Noach Dear became the latest person to be on the receiving end of egregious Jew hatred. According to a report in the New York Post, law enforcement sources said that Dear was walking near Maimonides Medical Center in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn on Sunday morning when a gray haired man shouted at him “You f**king Jew! Don’t you have a mouth?” It was also reported that the perpetrator who was described as a white male, about 5’, 10”, also took photographs of Dear’s license plate.
Dear reported the incident to police and the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force in conducting an investigation.
Reports on the alarming escalation of anti-Semitic incidents in New York City indicate that the number of reported incidents has risen to 94 percent this year as compared to 2016. NYPD officials have said that the uptick in anti-Semitic attacks have prompted them to beef up security outside synagogues and Jewish community centers.
By: Carl Westbrook
(JTS and INN)