As police in University City, Mo., investigate the toppling of as many as 200 headstones at one of the area’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, residents have expressed outrage, sadness and unity about the incident, asking how they can help repair the damage.
“It’s hard to even express how terrible it was,” says Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery after surveying the vandalism done to an older part of the cemetery, which dates back to 1893, according to its website.
Despite the horror of the desecration, Rabbi Yosef Landa, who has directed Chabad of Greater St. Louis since 1981 and provides halachic guidance to the cemetery, is quick to point out that it is not representative of the city or its inhabitants.
“This was done by a single individual or a small group of individuals, and we do not even know for sure what their motives were,” says the rabbi. “On the other hand, we have seen a broad show of support and unity from all across the Jewish community and beyond. This is the real St. Louis—and the real America.”
The cemetery contains the resting places of some of the city’s most revered leaders, including chief rabbis Zecharia Yosef Rosenfeld (d. 1915) and Chaim Fischel Epstein (d. 1942).
The incident was discovered on the same day that 11 Jewish community centers around the country received bomb threats.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens tweeted on Monday night that he was “disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate.”
Almost immediately after the news broke, the work of repairing and/or replacing the toppled headstones had already begun. The rabbi notes that many residents have expressed a willingness to help.
“What is important here,” he says, “is that we are coming together for constructive and positive purposes.”
Cemetery workers begin repairing the damage.
The cemetery contains the resting places of some of the city’s most revered leaders. “What is important here is that we are coming together for constructive and positive purposes,” says Rabbi Yosef Landa.