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Nearly 200 Headstones Vandalized At Historic Jewish Cemetery In St. Louis

By Stephen Gossett in News on Feb 21, 2017 4:23PM

Vandals knocked over nearly 200 headstones at a historic Jewish cemetery in University City, MO, near St. Louis, according to reports. The damage happened the same day that nearly a dozen Jewish community centers nationwide received bomb threats. After prominent political figures such as Hillary Clinton called on President Donald Trump to speak out against the vandalism and intimidations, the White House issued a statement on Tuesday morning denouncing “hatred and hate-motivated violence”—although the statement does not mention Jews or specific acts.

Police on Monday confirmed the vandalism on Monday, which happened sometime over the weekend and targeted Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. The Chesed Shel Emeth Society has been in operation in St. Louis for more than 125 years, according to its website. The cemetery was founded in 1888 by Jewish Russian emigres to serve the Jewish community in St. Louis.

"It's hard to even express how terrible it was," Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It was horrible."

Leah Greenberg, co-author of the Indivisible Guide, Tweeted on Monday that her great-grandfather was killed in an anti-immigrant assault and is buried in the cemetery.

Deaths on the damaged headstones ranged between roughly 1921 and 1962, according to reports.

Police do not have any suspects in custody as of Tuesday morning; and they said the possibility of hate crime charges remains open, according to the Post-Dispatch. Officials on Tuesday are taking inventory of the damage and will notify the appropriate families.

Following the cemetery desecration and yet another wave of violent threats to Jewish centers—the fourth round this year—Clinton urged the president to speak out. Trump had been largely silent or evasive in terms of addressing the rise in hate incidents that has taken place since the election.

The Anti-Defamation League on Monday made a similar call in the face of Trump's silence. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement:

“We look to our political leaders at all levels to speak out against such threats directed against Jewish institutions, to make it clear that such actions are unacceptable, and to pledge that they will work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those responsible will be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law.”

Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and a convert to Judaism, Tweeted on Monday that religious centers and places of worship must be protected.

A statement from the White House ultimately arrived on Tuesday morning, although in keeping with a pattern, the administration did not specify that the attacks were directed toward Jewish institutions.

The White House press office said:

"Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable."

A forceful backlash against the White House's vague phrasing emerged shortly thereafter. Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, called the statement "a pathetic asterisk of condescension" in a scathing rebuke.

Donations are being accepted to help repair and maintain the headstones at the cemetery. They can be made here.