Canadian rabbi reaches out to grave vandals

TORONTO (JTA) — A rabbi in Canada is extending an olive branch to vandals who desecrated five Jewish graves in British Columbia on New Year’s Eve.

"Did this person really know what it means?" asked Rabbi Harry Brechner of the historic Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria on Jan. 3 as he stood amid gravestones that had been coated with solvent and wrapped in plastic awaiting repair. "Did this person really know what Nazism is?" he wondered in the Victoria Times-Colonist.

The Victoria police are treating the desecration at the Emanu-El cemetery as a hate crime and are appealing to the public for assistance. The five tombstones were painted late on Dec. 31 with racist graffiti, swastikas and, in at least one instance, a dollar sign.

"I’m not hoping for punishment," Rabbi Brechner was quoted as saying. "I have disgust for the act, but I hope the person is someone who can learn from this. Come clean the gravesites, and when you are through, take a tour with me around the cemetery and meet some of the people who lived through Nazism."

Victoria Police Constable Mike Russell said the incident does not appear to be a simple act of vandalism.

"It seems like it’s more of a targeted thing, where it’s placed and what’s said," he told the Times-Colonist.

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