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176 gravestones at 2 Jewish cemeteries vandalized, FBI investigating

<i>Liz Dufour/The Enquirer/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Many of the 176 gravestones that were vandalized at the cemeteries had American flags
Liz Dufour/The Enquirer/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource
Many of the 176 gravestones that were vandalized at the cemeteries had American flags

By Jennifer Henderson and Sydney Bishop, CNN

(CNN) — Nearly 180 gravestones at two Jewish cemeteries in Cincinnati have been vandalized, according to the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

Many of the gravestones – some dating back to the late 1800s – have been knocked face-down, with some cracked in half, at the Tifereth Israel and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol cemeteries in the Covedale Cemetery complex, a news release on behalf of the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Jewish Community Relations Council said.

The vandalism is believed to have occurred between June 25 and July 1, the statement said, and was discovered Monday morning.

The FBI, Cincinnati Police and Green Township of Hamilton County are investigating the incident but there are no known suspects, the release added.

“The FBI Cincinnati Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are working with local law enforcement partners to investigate the damage to gravestones at Tifereth Israel Cemetery and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Cemetery,” The FBI said Thursday. “We encourage anyone with information about this vandalism to contact the FBI.”

Capt. Mitch Hill of the Green Township Police Department told CNN Wednesday the investigation is ongoing and no new information is available.

“The vandalism of nearly 200 graves at two Jewish cemeteries near Cincinnati is despicable. This is Antisemitism and it is vile,” President Joe Biden stated in a post on X Wednesday, “I condemn these acts and commit my Administration to support investigators in holding those responsible accountable to the full extent of the law.”

The vandalism comes amid a rise in antisemitic incidents across the nation. The most recent data from the Anti-Defamation League, which has tracked antisemitic incidents in the US since 1979, found a 140% increase from 2022 to 2023, with a “dramatic” increase taking place after the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

“We unequivocally condemn this act of hatred and desecration. Our hearts go out to the families affected by this senseless vandalism. The Jewish community in Cincinnati is resilient, and we are committed to repairing the damage and restoring the sanctity of these sacred spaces,” the federation’s release said.

Sue Susskind, executive director of the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati, told CNN, “Until you walk that ground and feel it, I mean, it’s horrendous. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.”

While the organization has not yet been able to identify all the graves affected, Susskind said law enforcement has now granted permission for the gravestones to be repaired and inspected. Some of the gravestones are so heavy, they will have to be lifted up by cranes, she said.

Two monument companies have reached out and are willing to donate their services in restoring the vandalized stones, Susskind told CNN.

First, they hope to identify names and pull reports from the Jewish Cemeteries database, Susskind said. For the older graves not in the system, the organization will have to “go on the ground and try to figure it out.”

CNN observed on Wednesday that at least six of the overturned graves were those of US veterans.

According to Susskind, families are currently allowed to enter the cemeteries and find their loved ones’ gravestones before reporting if that gravestone is “up or down” in order to reduce the list of suspected impacted areas.

Janson Becker is one resident who came to check on the gravestones of his parents and several other family members at Covedale Cemeteries.

While his family’s graves were safe, Becker told CNN he felt “a combination of anger and sadness” about what occurred, describing it as a “feeling of being violated.”

But Becker offered a hopeful message to the families affected, despite the negative feelings.

“You can be angry about it. You can be sad about it. But be at peace about it because this is just a symbolic resting place. Your loved ones are in a better place,” Becker said. “So, they’re OK. We’re the ones hurting.”

Becker said he hopes there will be justice for the perpetrators, but added it’s not his place to decide what that justice will be.

“I think the odds of catching them are fairly slim, and if they don’t get their justice here, then they have to go through their lifetime wondering what their justice is going to be when they meet their maker,” Becker said.

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CNN’s Kit Maher and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.

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