Police are treating the desecration of 59 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts as a hate crime.
Law enforcement discovered the toppled headstones and anti-Semitic slurs written in black marker at the Hebrew Cemetery in Fall River on Sunday. The vandalism was discovered by a member of Adas Israel, the synagogue congregation that oversees the 300-plot cemetery. Many of the messages included swastikas and Hitler references. Other graves were vandalized with statements such as “Expel the Jews.”
“I think it’s awful that this should ever happen anywhere, let alone here in Fall River,” said Police Chief Albert Dupere, adding that he cannot remember seeing “something on this scale” before.
As of Wednesday, authorities did not have any leads, according to the Providence Journal, but said the crime may have happened on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, or early Sunday. The local police department, Anti-Defamation League and Adas Israel have each offered rewards for additional information.
The Anti-Defamation League of New England issued a statement Wednesday, saying, “The desecration of The Hebrew Cemetery of Fall River is an inexcusable act of antisemitic hatred in the place where we honor and remember the lives of our community members.”
Lawmakers also condemned the vandalism. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Massachusetts or anywhere else in this country,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).
Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) posted a message Tuesday on Twitter: “None of this is harmless. Beyond the hurt for the Fall River families whose loved one’s tombstone was defaced, anti-Semitism in any form breeds violence in our communities. We stand united in rejecting these acts of anti-Semitism and hatred.”
The cemetery vandalism comes amid a spate of anti-Jewish hate crime. The Anti-Defamation League released its 2017 annual report, which documented a 60 percent increase in “the number of anti-Semitic incidents,” which it called “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.”
In October, the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood — labeled the worst single attack on American Jews in U.S. history — left 11 dead.
Like Squirrel Hill, Fall River, once a thriving Jewish community, has experienced a shift in demographics. Adas Israel, founded in 1959, was the last orthodox synagogue in the area. The Herald News reported its members sold their historic building in 2012 because of dwindling membership.