Dozens of gravestones desecrated in Jewish cemeteries in New York

While New York State Police have thus far refrained from labeling these acts as 'war crimes', local Jewish communities have no doubt that they are antisemitic since there have been more such incidents as the war in Gaza intensifies
New York State Police have opened an investigation following the vandalism and toppling of around 50 gravestones in several adjacent Jewish cemeteries in Rotterdam, located in the northern part of the state. The police have not yet determined if these acts constitute a hate crime, but members of the Jewish community are apprehensive and believe the vandalism is a reaction to the conflict in Gaza.
Local authorities reported that this incident is part of a series of vandalism incidents, the first of which was reported two weeks ago, though it could have occurred earlier. The toppled headstones, found amid a significant amount of trash, bore no graffiti or any other inscriptions that might categorize the acts as hate crimes.
In the past, local youths have been apprehended for damaging graves in the area and for sawing off stone headstones. The police have announced plans to interrogate several families residing near the cemeteries, and the deputy police chief has stated that the investigation is ongoing. "If we find out that these acts were driven by hate or targeted a specific religion, we will label them as a hate crime," he said.
Jeffrey Handelman, chairman of the Jewish Federation of Northeast New York, said such incidents are scaring people. "With all that's going on in the world right now, this really looks like outright antisemitism. A lot of people are really scared," he said. Handelman noted that the cemetery was founded in the 1890s and had undergone extensive cleaning about eight years ago. This is the first time, he said, that the gravestones have been vandalized to this extent, and he is working on getting them fixed quickly. "It's tough and really sad to see this happen," he commented. "Everyone knows that cemeteries should be respected as sacred places where we honor our deceased loved ones. What happened isn't right."
Rabbi Rafi Spitzer, leader of the Agudat Achim community, which owns parts of the cemetery, was informed of the vandalism on Friday by another member of the Jewish community. "I called the police right away and went to the cemetery. When I got there, I was just stunned. It was obvious a lot of damage had been done, with many stones knocked over, some even broken. You could tell it took a lot of force to do that," he stated.
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Jewish tombstones vandalized
Jewish tombstones vandalized
Jewish tombstones vandalized
(Photo: Screenshot)
Spitzer emphasized that, regardless of the perpetrator, the vandalism was "driven by a growing culture of hatred against Jews ever since the Gaza conflict started. We're seeing a deep-rooted hatred of Jews, and I really think this is a specific example of a broader problem in our society," he explained. "Even if it turns out it was just some drunk teenagers – which I doubt – it shows you that there are many things drunk people might do, but choosing to attack a Jewish cemetery like this, no matter how it happened, is antisemitic."
Additionally, some community members have pointed out that Union College in nearby Schenectady has become a contentious arena for clashes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students since the Gaza conflict began. The Ministry of Education is investigating several incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiment on campus. Although the university has not seen pro-Palestinian tent protests like those now common on many U.S. campuses, the local Jewish community contends that the tense atmosphere is spreading beyond the campus boundaries. If the administration fails to address this issue, "the culture of hatred will spread everywhere in the region," they warn.
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