Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

By Matthew Gambino

to the destruction of some 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in
Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Feb. 27 deplored the “senseless acts
of mass vandalism.”

The gravestones were discovered
toppled over from their bases the previous morning at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast

The archbishop issued a statement
in which he called on the clergy, religious and laypeople of the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia “to join in prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose
final resting places have been disturbed. Violence and hate against anyone,
simply because of who they are, is inexcusable.”

incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery mirrors gravestones destroyed at another Jewish
cemetery near St. Louis about a week before.

In a statement Feb. 24,
the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious
Affairs, expressed solidarity and support for the Jewish community and also
called for the rejection of such hateful actions.

“I want to express our
deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who
have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United
States,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts,
speaking on behalf of all the bishops and U.S. Catholics. “I wish to offer our
deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions.
The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current
face of anti-Semitism.”

Two days earlier, the
National Council of Churches in a statement said that “anti-Semitism has no
place in our society. Eradicating it requires keeping constant vigil.”

In his statement, Archbishop Chaput said that “for Catholics, anti-Semitism is more than a human
rights concern. It’s viewed as a form of sacrilege and blasphemy against God’s
chosen people. In recent weeks, our country has seen a new wave of
anti-Semitism on the rise. It’s wrong and it should deeply concern not only
Jews and Catholics, but all people.”

Even as the archbishop issued
his statement, a new wave of fear spread for Jewish people in the United States
as about a dozen Jewish community centers across the country received anonymous
threats of violence.

Several centers in the
Philadelphia region — including the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center, which
includes a preschool, in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood — had been
evacuated the morning of Feb. 27 because of bomb threats, local media reported.
By the afternoon, the facility along with others in Pennsylvania, New Jersey
and Delaware had reopened.

Scores of other such threats
have been received by Jewish community centers in recent weeks across the

“As a community, we must speak
out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize
and incite prejudice,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We must continually and loudly
reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious

“Rather, as members of diverse
faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one
another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of
trust and understanding.”

The heads of the Religious
Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia met the afternoon of Feb. 27 at the Lutheran
Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. Msgr. Daniel
Kutys, moderator of the curia for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, represented
Archbishop Chaput at the meeting.

The archbishop, who is a
co-convener of the more than 30-member religious leadership council, was unable
to attend the meeting.

In St. Louis, an interfaith cleanup
effort of the vandalized cemetery took place Feb 22 followed by an interfaith
prayer service. Vandals toppled more than two-dozen gravestones and damaged an
estimated 200 more at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which dates to

Represented by seminarians,
priests, deacons, students and laity, Catholic St. Louisans stood with Jewish
brethren at the cemetery in University City.

They were among about 1,000
people who helped with cleanup, including Vice President Mike Pence and
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitans. When he came unannounced to help rake leaves, Pence
was wearing work clothes, as he had come from another event.

“There is no place in
America for hatred, prejudice, or acts of violence or anti-Semitism,” he said
later. “I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by
your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you
for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about.”

Greitens, who came ready to work
in jeans, boots and a work shirt, described the vandalism as “a despicable
act … anti-Semitic and painful. Moments like this are what a community is
about. … We’re going to demonstrate that this is a moment of revolve. We’re
coming together to share service.”

Seminarians were among those who
answered St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson’s call Feb. 21 “to help
our Jewish brothers and sisters.” About a dozen used their afternoon free
time to help out.

“This is neat to see,”
said seminarian Cole Bestgen, watching the workers fan out on a sunny and
unseasonably warm 67-degree day armed with rakes, trash barrels and buckets.
Though toppled headstones already had been replaced, the volunteers took care
of general cleanup and maintenance.

The desecration sparked outrage
from numerous ecumenical groups — Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslims and
more — and dignitaries across the country, including President Donald J. Trump, who sent messages of thanks through Pence and Greitens.

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Gambino is director and general
manager of, the news website of the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia. Contributing to this story was Dave Luecking in St. Louis.

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