New York politicians are calling for increased penalties following the vandalism last month of two Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia. Over 100 headstones were toppled at St. Louis’ Chesed Shel Emes cemetery, while numerous headstones were knocked down at the Mount Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia.
The call for stricter penalties was led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, according to a NY Daily News report Tuesday.
Speaking to the press, Maloney noted the spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States.
“We have a challenge ahead of us,” Maloney acknowledged. “We have a number of incidents taking place across our country.”
In a February statement, Maloney condemned the recurring bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, saying she was “deeply disturbed by this wave of anti-Semitic actions in our country.”
Maloney urged the Justice Department to “not only examine the recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide but also address the recent vandalism at two different Jewish cemeteries and the overall uptick in anti-Semitic crime across our country.”
Other recent anti-Semitic incidents include the drawing of swastikas in Penn Station men’s bathrooms, the engraving of swastikas on the doors of a Unitarian Church in New York, and waves of bomb threats targeting Jewish Community Centers across the country.
In addition to the vandalism of the Philadelphia and St. Louis cemeteries, 42 headstones were toppled at Washington Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn. Though police have said the incident was not vandalism, Jewish leaders have expressed skepticism.
David Jacobson, a founder of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America, said he could not believe that natural causes would have resulted in the cemetery’s destruction.
“(A photo) showed a monument laying on the ground, face up,” Jacobson said, according to NY Daily News.
“I can’t imagine any high wind knocking over a monument that weighs a ton.”
New York Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Joseph Potasnik was also dismayed by the situation.
“The police were right there,” Potasnik said. “There was an immediate response. So far there hasn’t been a conclusive determination. It just seems to me so sacrilegious for us to be here speaking for people who are not allowed to rest in peace. We can’t tolerate this.”
According to AM New York, Maloney advocated for preventing future attacks on Jewish cemeteries by creating a group to protect historical monuments and historical buildings such as the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad).
“We help so many cemeteries abroad,” Maloney said. “Why not protect them in America?”