Headstones Vandalized At Jewish Cemetery In Missouri

Feb 21, 2017
Originally published on February 21, 2017 9:09 pm
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Jewish community leaders repeatedly have urged President Trump to condemn anti-Semitism as reports of attacks and threats have increased. Today, he did. We'll hear more about the president's stance in a moment.

First we go to St. Louis where one of Missouri's oldest Jewish cemeteries was vandalized this weekend. As St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann reports, the damage came after a day of bomb threats at Jewish centers across the country.

RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: Diesel engines broke the peace and quiet at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery today as crews from Rosenbloom Monument Company worked to reset the gravestones that were toppled by vandals. More than 170 monuments were affected. Most of the damage was concentrated in the oldest section of the cemetery where burials began in 1893. The cemeteries executive director, Anita Feigenbaum, says workers first alerted her to the damage yesterday morning. She said she cried when she saw the extent.

ANITA FEIGENBAUM: This is horrible. And the families - it's a - they have to go through a grieving process all over again.

LIPPMANN: In one section of the cemetery, more than a dozen stones lay face down on the soggy grass, including some of Jewish war veterans. Jody Serkes stood on a nearby path, surveying the damage. The graves of her family members were untouched, but Serkes says it's still personal.

JODY SERKES: This family is all family. These stones are all our stones. No matter who's here, they're my family. They're Jews who have been desecrated.

LIPPMANN: Serkes places the blame solely on President Donald Trump, who she says has allowed a climate of ignorance and fear to take over.

SERKES: You know, people have permission now. They think in their minds their ignorance and fear is permission to be angry about anything.

LIPPMANN: A few sections over, Nancy Giannasi and her sister Lori Frieze were relieved when they saw the graves of their grandparents and great-grandparents were still upright. Frieze believes the vandalism was an act of white supremacy.

LORI FRIEZE: Kids might push over one with a lot of effort, but they're not going to do this kind of damage. That's not kids.

LIPPMANN: Giannasi says she's frightened by the hate she's witnessing in the country. She plans to take a cue from her late father, who was very involved in St. Louis Jewish organizations.

NANCY GIANNASI: So I think I hear him telling me, get more involved. Get much more involved. Get active. Be a voice. One voice heard and then another voice heard - maybe we can make a difference.

LIPPMANN: In Missouri, the vandalism is being condemned across the political and religious spectrum. Missouri's Republican governor, Eric Greitens, who is himself Jewish, called the act despicable. And the chairman of the Islamic Foundation of greater St. Louis pledged to stand wholeheartedly with the Jewish community. The police investigation is ongoing. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Lippmann in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.