Monday, June 26, 2017

Vice President Pence made an unscheduled stop at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis on Wednesday, and even assisted with cleanup.(Credit: Vozizneias.com)

Close to 200 stones were toppled at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis.(Credit: Ynetnews.com)

Eleven more JCCs received threats on Monday, bringing the total to 54 threats in 27 states.

(JNS.org and combined sources) Antisemitism is “horrible” and “has to stop,” US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

In a statement to the press delivered at the museum, Trump referred to the recent surge of anti-Semitism in the US—including a spate of telephone bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the country and the desecration of graves at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said.

Earlier on Tuesday, in an NBC interview, Trump said anti-Semitism was “age-old.” “There is something going on that doesn’t allow it to fully heal,” he stated. “Sometimes it gets better and then it busts apart. But we want to have it get very much better, get unified and stay together.”

Trump’s statements followed a call for a response from the US government to a recent surge in anti-Semitic threats and vandalism.

On Monday, the World Jewish Congress called for a “strong and decisive reaction by the authorities at all political levels to combat” anti-Semitism in the US.

“This is not merely a problem for the Jewish community, it’s a problem for America as a whole,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement. “It is equally important that political leaders in Washington and on the state and local levels speak out and condemn such vile acts. I know that President Trump and his administration will take all necessary steps on the federal level to address this problem.”

“It’s time for all good people in America to join forces in order to root out all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry,” Lauder concluded.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Tuesday urged US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to set up a special task force to catch the perpetrators of the JCC bomb threats.

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper—the dean and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center—stated, “The multi-pronged threats of anti-Semitism today demand concerted action. We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of anti-Semitism and hate in America head-on in a speech at a time and place of his choosing.”

The Orthodox Union’s Maury Litwack, who heads up state political affairs for the OU, stated in a teleconference with journalists on Wednesday that, according to the NYPD, 56 hate crimes were reported in New York City in 2016, compared to 31 crimes the previous year. “That is almost double the same time period last year, and they told us the rise is specifically due to anti-Semitic crimes,” he said. Noting that the Orthodox Union has been working on getting more funding for school security from states since 2012, he added: “In light of concern expressed by parents, we have increased our call for more funding to be distributed because these schools do not have the resources to handle these threats that have come about the last few months,” he warned.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, called the incidents “an assault” against the American Jewish community.

“We are confident the authorities will do everything in their power to apprehend those responsible for these horrific acts and continue to fight any display of anti-Semitism,” Bennett said.

These remarks regarding threats and vandalism came in the wake of recent damage to some 200 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Police said Monday that they were investigating the vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery near St. Louis. Teaneck’s Ken Goffstein, originally from St. Louis and a member of the Jewish Link staff, noted personal concerns regarding the vandalism. “Not only are over 30 members of the Goffstein family buried here, but my great-grandfather was part of the group that organized the purchase of this land in 1893,” he said. He also noted that likely any other member of the Jewish community with ties to St. Louis has family members buried at Chesed Shel Emeth.

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery.”

Also on Monday, 11 JCCs were targeted with bomb threats. Police eventually gave the all clear at each JCC. Since January, a total of 54 JCCs in 27 U.S. states have received bomb threats, according to the JCC Association of North America.

In a statement, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said they are “investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish community centers across the country.”

“I’ve been in the business for 20-plus years, and this is unprecedented,” said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, CNN reported. “It’s more methodical than meets the eye.”

“I have seen isolated incidents, but this one is just the most jarring because of the frequency with which it has occurred,” said the OU’s Litwack. “It feels like a daily incident almost.”

Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced stop at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery on Wednesday, and noted how many groups, including those in Muslim communities, have come together in solidarity to decry the vandalism and raise money for repair. “It has been inspiring to people all across this country to see the people of Missouri rally around the Jewish community with compassion. You have inspired this nation with your kindness and your generosity,” he told reporters.

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