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January 31, 2016 7:44 am

Vandalism Strikes Twice at Historic Jewish Cemetery in Connecticut

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Headstones at a Jewish cemetery. Two incidents of vandalism were discovered at a Jewish cemetery in Hartford. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Headstones at a Jewish cemetery. Two incidents of vandalism were discovered at a Jewish cemetery in Hartford. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Two acts of vandalism were discovered at a historic Jewish cemetery in Connecticut recently, the Hartford Courant reported on Thursday.

Police were called to the Zion Hill Cemetery in Hartford on Wednesday morning, after an employee of the Association of Jewish Cemeteries was doing an inspection and found 20 headstones knocked over in Dreyfus Lodge, a plot in the cemetery.

A day later, Leonard J. Holtz, former president of Congregation Ados Israel, was walking in the cemetery and discussing the recent vandalism when he discovered 15 monuments that had been knocked down in the congregation’s plot.

Ados Israel, the first Orthodox synagogue in Hartford, closed in 1986 after 121 years. Holtz is a caretaker at the cemeteries where the former congregants are buried. Some of the toppled headstones date back to the 1920s and ’30s

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“We made efforts to lock the gates, which was never done, historically,” said Holtz, who noted that the chain he uses to secure the gate was missing on Thursday, leaving the entrance wide open. “Mourners used to have the freedom to come and pay their respects with peace of mind. Now, security is a long-term problem.”

Holtz said the headstones cannot be repaired until spring, because the epoxy used to mend them will not set in the cold weather, according to the Hartford Courant.

Lisa Vaeth, director of the Association of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Hartford, fears the incident at Dreyfus will be expensive to repair. She does weekly rounds of the 28 cemeteries under the control of her association and was the first to discover the vandalized headstones at Dreyfus on Wednesday.

“We’ll try to re-adhere them, but they’re never going to be the same,” she said about the destroyed headstones. “And if the family of the interred isn’t available, the nonprofit will have to foot the bill.”

Hartford police Deputy Chief Brian Foley said about Wednesday’s vandalism, “When you have 20 in a day in a specific area, that tends to ring of a targeted event.” He told Hartford Courant he has been tracking similar incidents for 15 years.

In 2012, 95 Jewish graves were damaged at the Tower Avenue Cemetery in Hartford, according to Howard Sovronsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Three teenage suspects were arrested, and Foley described their actions as “disrespectful” but not necessarily antisemitic. He believes otherwise for the Zion Hill vandalism.

“I don’t see that in this instance,” he said. “The manner and frequency and location say otherwise.”

Sovronsky hesitated to label this week’s vandalism as a hate crime, saying, “We won’t know what’s behind this until we find the perpetrators. Was it ease of access? Was it an act of hate?”

He added, “Regardless of its motivation, we perceive it as an attack on the Jewish faith, and whoever’s doing this should understand the consequences of their behavior.”

Hartford police are investigating both cases of vandalism. Anyone with information is asked to call 860-757-4000.

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