Police in Rochester, New York, are investigating the toppling of 21 headstones in the Waad Hakolel Jewish cemetery as a hate crime, said Meredith Dragon, head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.
“The Rochester police are treating this as an anti-Semitic incident,” Dragon told the Forward on Friday. She also said that she believed most of the headstones had been overturned due to vandalism, but that some might have fallen as a result of a windstorm that occurred Wednesday night.
The desecration was found Thursday morning, and initial reports pegged the number of damaged headstones at five or six, with cemetery and police officials reluctant to speculate on the cause.
If the Rochester incident is indeed a case of vandalism, this will be the third time in a month that a Jewish cemetery has been the victim of anti-Semitic vandalism, following episodes in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
By the end of the day, the count has risen to almost two dozen, and the likelihood that the incident was simply the result of bad weather - as opposed to human behavior – has diminished.
Dragon said it was not known why vandals targeted the Jewish cemetery; she also said that it did not matter. “Anytime there is any sort of vandalism done to a Jewish cemetery it should be considered an act of anti-Semitism,”she said.
According to her, cemetery officials have been working on finalizing a list of the names of those whose headstones have been damaged, and plan to release it Friday afternoon.
Dragon said that her office had been receiving concerned phone calls from across the country from people worried their family members might have been the victims of the vandalism.
“People here are upset. Many of those in the cemetery are the Holocaust survivors. And to think they survived the Holocaust to have this done to them, it’s extremely painful,” she said.
The Rochester Police Department and the Britton Road Association, which operates the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, could not be reached for comment by press time.
_ Contact Daniel J. Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @DanielJSolomon_
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.