Jewish leaders reject NYPD finding that toppled headstones was neglect not vandalism

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Jewish leaders in New York are disputing the New York Police Department’s finding that 42 headstones toppled in a Brooklyn cemetery are the result of neglect.

The headstones reported toppled on Saturday night at the largely Jewish Washington Cemetery originally were thought to have been the work of a vandal or vandals, following the vandalism of three other cemeteries – in St. Louis, Philadelphia and  Rochester- in the last two weeks.

But police determined after an investigation on Sunday that the headstones had fallen off of their bases due to neglect and bad weather conditions.

The fallen headstones were first reported to New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

He told the New York Post late on Sunday that the people who reported the damage to him had never noticed it before despite walking by the cemetery every week to go to synagogue services.

“The people who first reported this to us were individuals who walk by … on the way to synagogue on Shabbos, and they were the ones who saw something that looked wrong to them,’’ Hikind told the newspaper. “If they had seen the [toppled stones] before,’’ they would have reported it.

He added: “We’re not talking about stones that are down, that they want to repair. We’re talking about tombstones where if you look at it, you say, ‘Someone vandalized it.’”

Hikind, as well as city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield, also told the newspaper that police discovered a 3-foot hole cut into a razor-wire fence near the section of the cemetery containing the damaged headstones, which Hikind called an “obvious” breach.

Cemetery General Manager Marisa Tarantino told the Post that when headstones in the older sections fall over they move them over the grave so that the spot remains memorialized.  Cemetery workers concluded that many of the downed headstones noticed by the passers-by had fallen down over time.

In 2010, some 200 headstones were toppled in the same Brooklyn cemetery, over a Friday night and Saturday, when the cemetery is closed.