Published On: Fri, Jan 29th, 2016

Vandals Strike Twice at Historic Jewish Cemetery in Hartford

Jewish Cemetery Vadal in Hartford - anti-semitism

Leonard J. Holtz was discussing the recent rash of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries Thursday when he stumbled upon a fresh example.

Holtz, president of Congregation Ados Israel, discovered 15 monuments that had recently been knocked down in the congregation’s plot at Zion Hill Cemetery as he spoke about a similar incident nearby.

Ados Israel, the first Orthodox synagogue in Hartford, closed in 1986 after 121 years. It had been on Pearl Street for nearly 90 years. Holtz continues to oversee the cemeteries where the former congregants are buried.

His frustration was palpable Thursday — the Holtz men have cared for those graves since his great-grandfather Herman came to Hartford after the Civil War. One of the damaged headstones bore a date from the late 19th century.

“Mourners used to have the freedom to come and pay their respects with peace of mind, ” Holtz said. “Now, security is a long-term problem.”

That’s a sentiment shared by many in the area’s Jewish community, which has seen a series of incidents involving toppled tombstones and other vandalism in its cemeteries for at least a decade.

There have been two this week alone: Holtz surveyed his plot’s damage the day after 20 headstones were found tipped over at Dreyfus Lodge, another plot in Zion Hill.

“There are random stones turned over in the rest of cemetery, but none that have the scope of these, ” said Hartford police Deputy Chief Brian Foley. “When you have 20 in a day in a specific area, that tends to ring of a targeted event.”

Foley said he’s been tracking these types of incidents for 15 years.

One of the earliest recorded incidents of vandalism at Zion Hill happened in 1967, according to Howard Sovronsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Vandals struck again in 1985, 1990, 2000 and 2005.

More recently, 95 Jewish graves were damaged at the Tower Avenue Cemetery, at Tower Avenue and Waverly Street, in 2012, according to Sovronsky. Three teenage boys were arrested in that case, said Foley, who described their actions as “disrespectful” and not necessarily anti-Semitic.

“I don’t see that in this instance, ” he said of the Zion Hill vandalism. “The manner and frequency and location say otherwise.”

Sovronsky, while troubled by the attacks, hesitates to label them a hate crime.

“We won’t know what’s behind this until we find the perpetrators, ” he said. “Was it ease of access? Was it an act of hate?

Read the full story at Hartford Courant, by Vinny Vella

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