Cemetery vandalism… again!

by Bob Mendelsohn, JFJ National Director

Following are three reports of cemetery vandalism, in two different US cities. And all within a fortnight. And a conclusion which has hope and might surprise some of you. Concerning the cemeteries, what is sad is that none of the perpetrators have been caught, so far. What’s worrisome is that this appears to be a trend, and what that says about the US just now is troubling.

Police in Philadelphia are investigating a vandalism at a Jewish cemetery last weekend. This was the 2nd time in a fortnight that Philly cemeteries have had headstones knocked over and damaged.

At least 75 tombstones were overturned Saturday night at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery. The only targets were the Jewish graves according to Det. Jim McReynolds of the police department's Northeast Detectives Division. He said no damage occurred at the three neighbouring Christian cemeteries at Mt Carmel. Two weeks ago, a dozen headstones were damaged at a Catholic cemetery in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia mayor's spokeswoman Lauren Hitt reported.

That vandalism at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Cemetery didn't appear to target a specific group of people, Hitt said. The Catholic cemetery is about two miles away from the Jewish cemetery.

The vandalism at the Jewish cemetery was especially worrisome because it comes less than a week after a similar incident at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, said Nancy Baron-Baer, the Anti-Defamation League's regional director for the Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware region.

"One stone in one cemetery being desecrated is one stone too many. We are talking about hundreds within a week," she said.
The ADL is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 offered a $3,000 reward for the same purpose.

But there is hope. In a most unlikely show of support, after the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalised, Muslim-American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi launched a fund-raising effort to help pay for the toppled headstones to be repaired. They set a goal to raise $20,000, but donors gave more than $130,000. El-Messidi wrote on Facebook that some of the extra funds would go toward the Philadelphia cemetery, and he visited Mt. Carmel on Sunday to help in the recovery efforts.

"Seeing this in person was very devastating," El-Messidi wrote on Facebook. "Many people there were embracing one another in tears due to what they saw."

"I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry," he said. Members of the Philadelphia branch of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an American-Muslim organisation, also visited the cemetery and helped in the cleanup efforts, according to national spokesman Qasim Rashid.

Salaam Bhatti, another spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, told CNN there are as many as eight more members at Mt. Carmel cemetery Monday helping out with "whatever the cemetery needs."

"This attack is not just an attack on our Jewish brothers and sisters but on our common community," Bhatti said. "We believe we need to be protecting our fellow humans from this extremism."

I know some of our Blog’s readers will be suspicious of the kindnesses of these Muslims, but I reckon their words, their money and their personal attention to the cause of repair should all be highlighted more than their own religious persuasion.

If a person in time of need rejects the kindness of a neighbour, and fails to receive that measure of love, it says much more about the (non)receiver than about anyone else in the drama. The perpetrators of the evil in the desecration of the three cemeteries (and dare I add many more such desecrations worldwide in the last two years) will be caught in due course. God knows how to judge those who disparage his own people.

As northern Spring has begun, with the seasons of Easter and Passover to be celebrated in the next few weeks, may we pause and call to mind the harsh condition of the world in 1500 BC or 30 AD? May we remember that God heard the cries of his Jewish people and sent a redeemer to deliver us when Moses was born, raised in the royal comforts in Egypt, trained as a wilderness shepherd for four decades, then led us out of Egypt by God’s outstretched arm and mighty hand.

“Let my people go!” was Moses’ cry and eventually, and with regret, Pharaoh did let us leave slavery in Egypt.

1500 years later, God again heard the cries of the people, and in the darkness of Roman occupation of the land of the Jewish people, in what we today call Israel, God again sent a redeemer to deliver all people. Yeshua (some call him Isa or Jesus) was born, raised in Israel, trained as a carpenter at his father’s side, then led us out of slavery to sin by his death on the Roman cross and resurrection from the dead.

No one had an inside track on this redemption. In fact, the Good Books says of everyone on the planet, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Paul’s letter to the Romans 5.10)

So whether a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic or a none-of-the-above, here’s God’s good news for you this Passover. “God loved the world so much that he sent his only son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16)


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