Six months after vandals knocked down more than 150 gravestones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, members of the local Jewish community reconsecrated the land and honored the dead.
Despite grey clouds threatening rain, dozens attended the ceremony on Sunday, seeking closure after the grave markers were repaired, and in some cases replaced.
One of the speakers, Rabbi Roxane Shapiro, noted that volunteers and donations for repairs came from all walks of life and all around the world.
“While God could not guard this sacred place from harm, God did send so many to repair, reclaim and rededicate,” Shapiro said. “In this, a horrific act committed was toppled by acts of love and kindness. Hate did not win. Goodness prevailed.”
Cousins Jay Dodson and Barb Goldberg said they felt compelled to attend because they have family buried at the cemetery.
“We were both here when it all first happened, and trying to recover from that has been very difficult,” Dodson said.
While their relative’s gravestones weren’t damaged, Dodson said the vandalism still felt personal.
“For me, emotionally, that didn’t really matter. This is all our family,” Dodson said. “I’m convinced as ever that it’s a hate crime, and not a kid’s prank. A kid’s prank would be three or four, not 200.”
Chesed Shel Emeth leaders say they don't know who knocked over the grave markers, so there’s no way of confirming a motive. Anita Feigenbaum, the cemetery’s executive director, said the investigation is still ongoing, but she hasn’t heard anything definitive from law enforcement.
“They haven’t exhausted everything. It’s still open, so I’m just hopeful,” Feigenbaum said.
Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, said news of the cemetery’s damage brought people together.
“It reached far beyond the Jewish community and far beyond those of us who have people here,” Neiss said. “It was an attack on those of us who felt threatened in anyway, those of us who felt marginalized, those of us who felt different, those of us who felt other.”
“Unfortunately, that’s something that has not gone away,” Neiss said, pointing to an explosion at a Minnesota mosque Saturday.
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