Cemetery vandals paint swastikas

| February 4, 2010

PORTLAND — The discovery of swastikas spray-painted on four headstones in a Jewish cemetery this week has revolted the region's Jewish community.

Emily Chaleff, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, issued a statement Wednesday saying the alliance hopes the vandals are found and punished.

"It is hard to express in strong enough terms the disgust of the Jewish community at such an act of desecration," Chaleff said. "The cemetery is hallowed ground and the sanctity of that space has been violated by a universal symbol of hate and intolerance, a symbol of particular loathing to the Jewish community."

Almost a year ago, a swastika was spray-painted in black on a message board outside Temple Shaarey Tphiloh in Portland.

Portland police Capt. Ted Ross said that Arthur Cope, caretaker at the Mount Sinai Cemetery, reported the vandalism Tuesday in the adjacent, much older Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Ross said investigators photographed four headstones in Mount Carmel that had been spray-painted with what appeared to be representations of swastikas.

Those photographs and the results of the police investigation will be sent to the Maine Attorney General's Office, which prosecutes hate crimes.

The Attorney General's Office will look for any similarities between the symbols from the Portland cemetery and other acts of vandalism across the state. There are no suspects as yet.

Ross estimated it will cost $8,000 to replace the markers. He said it is difficult to remove paint without damaging the old headstones.

The vandal or vandals could be charged with a hate crime and aggravated criminal mischief – a felony. "We share the same disgust as the Jewish community," Ross said.

Stephen L. Wessler, executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, said, "It is really despicable when you put a swastika on a headstone in a Jewish cemetery. There is something especially disturbing and hurtful about that."

Wessler said the community must focus not on who committed the vandalism, but on "marginalizing" those people.

"Whether it was a 15-year-old or a 40-year-old who did this doesn't really change the impact it will have on the Jewish community and other groups who were victimized in the Holocaust," he said.

Wessler encouraged the Jewish community to publicly denounce such acts of vandalism through rallies or newspaper editorials.

Chaleff said the Jewish community has been talking about holding a rally or forum on the vandalism, similar to a gathering last year at Temple Shaarey Tphiloh.

"Even if it was meant as a joke, I don't understand," Chaleff said. "It's a severe symbol of hate and it needs to be acknowledged."



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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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