Monday, March 06, 2017

N.Y. pols push increased penalties for cemetery vandals amid rise in anti-Semitic incidents 

Lawmakers on Monday joined Jewish leaders to call for increased penalties for cemetery vandals after a rash of anti-Semitic cemetery desecrations.

"There has been a rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes in our country," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney told reporters gathered inside her Upper East Side office. "We have a challenge ahead of us. We have a number of incidents taking place across our country."

In New York City, there has been a 94% increase of such crimes compared to the first two months last year, she noted.

The news conference came a day after the NYPD concluded that 42 fallen headstones at Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn were not caused by vandals.

Still, some elected officials are calling for a deeper investigation.

On Monday, Jewish leaders standing with her said they are not convinced the toppled tombstones discovered this weekend in Midwood were accidental.

David Jacobson, founding member of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America, said he isn't buying that old age and wind are the only culprits.

"(A media photo) showed a monument laying on the ground, face up. So that monument had to be pushed off the base in order to fall like that," Jacobson said. "That monument might had weighed approximately a ton. I can't imagine any high wind knocking over a monument that weighs a ton."

New York Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Joseph Potasnik also had reservations about the cemetery's and police's assessment of the incident.

"The police were right there," he said. "There was an immediate response. So far there hasn't been a conclusive determination. It just seems to me so sacrilegious for us to be here speaking for people who are not allowed to rest in peace. We can't tolerate this."

As a response, Maloney said she's considering expanding the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which protects foreign cemeteries, into U.S. territory.

"Why not have it in America, particularly for non-for-profit cemeteries. This is something I want to take back to congress," she said. "It's been a very active commission. What about our cemeteries here in America? We need cameras. We need enforcement."

Maloney also wants to expand anti-Semitism prevention programs and penalties for desecrators.

Jacobson added that young people ages 14 to 20 are the ones who tend to break into cemeteries to wreak havoc. He said he believes most cemetery vandals go unreported.

"It's a national problem. The problem is greater that we are now experiencing," he said. "The minors are getting a slap on the wrist."

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