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Vandals hit Ohio Jewish cemetery

CINCINNATI, Oct. 12 — Vandals toppled more than 100 tombstones at the United Jewish Cemeteries’ Walnut Hills location sometime before dawn on Oct. 4. This was the second time in 46 days and the third time in 15 months that the Cincinnati cemetery suffered such an act. On Aug. 19, 2004, vandals toppled 102 tombstones, causing between $15,000 and $20,000 in damages. In July 2003, nearly 40 stones were desecrated. This time cemetery officials, in their initial assessment, said they “stopped counting at 100.” Among the many violated tombstones were those of veterans who had fought in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. “The community needs to band together and we need to put pressure on the police to help us,” said Dr. Edward Herzig, vice president of the board of United Jewish Cemeteries. “Major television stations seem to be uninterested in covering this, I guess, because there are no live victims.” United Jewish Cemeteries superintendent Bill Riegel echoed a similar sentiment on the topic of police protection. “The police department needs to stay on top of this,” Riegel said. “The police report filed six weeks ago was sketchy and they need to get back to us in a more expedient manner.” Ernie Waits, assistant superintendent of the cemeteries, said police need to be more available to follow potential leads. “Detectives need to get out here to detect,” Waits said. “The chief of police needs to let subordinates know this” vandalism “is harmful to the overall community and we need their help today. “We are asking police to pay more attention to the cemetery at night,” he said. “Since this particular facility has been targeted, the police need to go to where the violence is.” Detective Gregory Hill, the detective assigned to the case, said several witnesses had contacted him by late on the afternoon of Oct. 5. “We have suspects that have been named,” he added. In a Sept. 28 speech on anti-Semitism held at Adath Israel Congregation, author and editor Ron Rosenbaum made mention of the reluctance of local authorities to categorize as a hate crime the act of destruction wreaked upon the cemeteries on Aug. 19. “Tombstones in a Jewish cemetery,” he said. “All knocked over, but it’s not anti-Semitism, it’s vandalism. It’s not a hate crime; it’s somehow just a juvenile prank. That’s anti-Semitism denial.” Both Riegel and Waits said they are encouraging people to come out during the day and see the destruction for themselves. Herzig said the first thing that needs to be done is to find some way to protect the cemeteries, even though they are open to the public. “We must find a balance between public accessibility and the need to protect the property,” he said. “The second thing to do is calling upon our neighbors to help us find the people responsible for this. The third thing is looking to police to help us devise some security measures.” Riegel said that many concerned people have suggested various security measures the cemetery can enact and that such suggestions continue to be welcomed. Some suggestions provided include closing the front gates after hours, using guard dogs to patrol the property, installing security cameras with on-premises human surveillance, erecting taller fences topped with barbed wire and increasing the reward for information on suspected perpetrators. The executive committee of the board of the United Jewish Cemeteries has planned a meeting to discuss ways to deal with this most recent wave of vandalism, to address how to prevent future vandalism and to explore ways in which the Jewish community can constructively channel their response to this latest act of desecration. Waits said United Jewish Cemeteries were searching for a positive outcome that is attainable, practical and affordable. As for the emotional damage, Waits noted, “We all feel violated. What is this saying to future generations?”