Jewish cemetery desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti days before Yom Kippur

| 13 Oct 2016 | 07:23

Leonard Silver, a well-known Sugar Loaf resident who is battling cancer, came to the Temple Beth Shalom cemetery in Warwick on Monday to show his wife the plot he had recently picked out. He was met with a heartbreaking sight — the walls around the cemetery had been vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.
Black spray-painted Swastikas, “Heil Hitler,” and lightning-shaped "SS" insignias of the Nazi military police were discovered Sunday morning covering the walls of the Jewish cemetery near the intersection of Spanktown Road and Union Corners Road. The incident occurred just days before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Silver is the son of Holocaust survivors.
“I didn't know what had happened,” Silver said, visibly emotional, “and to come and see these messages on the wall just hit me so deeply in the core.”
Warwick Police were alerted Sunday of the vandalism that likely happened the night before, said Lt. Thomas Maslanka. The headstones and the nearby St. Joseph's Cemetery were left unharmed.
“My initial reaction was this is awful, this is terrible, but it's probably not so bad,” said Rabbi Rebecca Shinder, who has been with the temple congregation for 11 years. “I figured maybe there's one little thing or something, and then I get here and it's all across the front, so much so that it's rare people (driving by) don't stop.”
Shinder said she was surprised by the incident, and that nothing like his has happened since she's been with the temple. She said others such as Debbie Warner, a founding member of the temple and local resident for 60 years, and Tim Purta, the Florida funeral director who has lived locally his whole life, both agreed that a similar incident has never happened.
Silver, however, said he was not surprised.
“The Jews have suffered nearly every day throughout history,” he said. “It didn't matter whether it was near a holiday or far from it. But it is wonderful to know that soon I'll be in the temple again and I'll be able to get my head on straight and deal with this in a more sensible and spiritual and loving way. Right now I'm in pain, deep pain.”
Before Yom Kippur services held Tuesday night, Shinder said their worship would be altered in light of the incident. The message wouldn't be of hatred and anger, she said, but that the congregation will stand stronger.
Micah Sander, a junior at Warwick Valley High School, came to the cemetery with his parents on Monday. When asked why he came, he said: “Just to show that they can't break us, that we still can come together, that this isn't defeat. We're going to clean the walls, change the walls whatever we need to do. It's that we've taken attacks, we've kept going, and to show that we're here and see if we can help.”
Warwick Police are currently investigating the incident as a hate crime. There is a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in this case.
"It's a heinous act and it's very hurtful to everyone in our community to think that there are people amongst us who have that type of hate in their heart," Maslanka said. "We certainly have an image of our community that we all hold and this certainly is not reflective of what the vast majority of the people in our town believe. It's just very disturbing that people are still harboring this kind of hate."
Anyone with tips is asked to call the Warwick Police at 845-986-5000.

Service of Solidarity

A “Service of Solidarity and Healing” will be held at the Temple Beth Shalom cemetery at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, for anyone who wishes to attend. The gathering will be in front of the cemetery gates for prayers and songs, accompanied by the temple's Torah Scroll, which was saved from the Nazis.
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement, stating they were “deeply disturbed” by the vandalism.
“Children learn this from us, the adults, the parents, the people who are around them,” Silver said. “And there's three ways you can change this, one is by example, two is by example, and three is by example. By example we can change this and that's how children learn.”