Thursday, May 3, 2007

Vandals make cemeteries sadder places

A cemetery is a sad place. People with hearts and souls don't have fun at a cemetery.

But people without souls, people who think it's fun to tip over gravestones and people who sneak into cemeteries to do their vandalism, make them even sadder for the rest of us.

And cowards who sneak under the cover of darkness to paint swastikas on Jewish cemeteries are unfeeling and stupid. Why stupid? Because they obviously have a mental problem, and the Nazis killed people with mental problems. So, in painting swastikas, they are glorifying a group that would have sent them to the gas chambers along with the millions of real people who were slaughtered.

Cemeteries in East Haven, Conn., belonging to two or more Orthodox synagogues in New Haven, have been vandalized, with discoveries made the last week of April, 2007.

I went to the cemeteries today (May 3, 2007) to see for myself. Goldie Goldberg the administrator of Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim, one of the synagogues involved, and Rabbi David Avigdor, Bikur Cholim's spiritual leader, met with a reporter and videographer from WVIT, Channel 30, the NBC affiliate in Connecticut. I was there because I'm president of Bikur Cholim board of directors.

There were dozens of gravestones knocked over, some tipped off their bases, others pulled from their bases and somehow dragged so that the top, not the bottom, of the stone lay on the base. One that was white and thin like the stones seen in Revolutionary War-era cemeteries was broken in half.

Mark Zaretsky, a veteran reporter for the New Haven Register, had done a nice piece for the May 3 edition, pointing out that there is an economic price to be paid for the vandalism, along with the hurt to the soul.

Although he painted Bikur Cholim as more moribund than it is, he rightfully quoted the synagogue secretary as saying it will cost thousands of dollars to repair and reset the stones on their bases, money the synagogue cannot easily afford. The Westville Synagogue also suffered and Elliott Croll, Westville's cemetery chairman, was a speaker in the Register story.

Bikur Cholim has set aside money for cemetery maintenance and the Greater New Haven Jewish Foundation is coordinating cemetery maintenance for the dozens of cemeteries in the New Haven area. But now thousands of dollars set aside for cemetery maintenance and improvement must be spent to repair the damage.

Cemeteries don't have vandalism insurance and although homeowners insurance can cover these costs, most of the graves are so old it is nearly impossible to trace the relatives who might have this insurance.

I'm happy for the coverage by the local and statewide press. The Register, has done stories, as have all three major television news operations -- WTNH in New Haven, WFSB in Hartford, as well as WVIT -- on air or on their Web sites or both.

I commend all the news outlets for following this story so closely. It's not a sexy story, but it's one of those slice of life stories that journalism is really all about.

It puts the problem out there for caring people.

Speaking of caring people, we owe a big thank you to the East Haven police for responding to this and to the patrols that they make in the cemetery area.

Those who do care and want to help are encouraged to call 203-387-4699 and speak to Goldie Goldberg, e-mail me or leave a note at the end of this post. Thank you in advance.

I have confidence that people who care will help make these cemeteries a place of a little more comfort and a lot less sadness.

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