Third Jewish cemetery damaged in surge of US anti-Semitic acts

Jewish tombstones were vandalised at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, on February 27, 2017

Vandals tumbled and defaced headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York, local officials confirmed Friday, the third such cemetery in the United States to suffer damage in a surge in apparent anti-Semitic acts.

Meredith Dragon, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, said local police were not yet ready to determine whether the toppling of a dozen or more headstones in the Stone Road or Waad Hakolel Cemetery overnight Wednesday was an act of petty vandalism or a targeted hate crime.

But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation into the rise in crimes and threats against Jewish organizations in the state.

Nationally, a total of three cemeteries -- the others in St Louis, Missouri and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- have now seen large numbers of overturned and broken headstones, and hundreds of bomb threats have been phoned in to Jewish community centers and day schools.

A national investigation has been opened by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which investigates hate crimes.

Dragon said local police were still studying the Rochester cemetery damage, which includes defacing photographs on headstones, to determine what damage happened Wednesday and what may have happened earlier but gone unnoticed.

"It's a very old cemetery," she said. "It's going to be challenging to figure out the who-what-when. There are not great cameras out there."

Dragon said a Jewish cemetery in the city had been similarly damaged in 2014, but that was blamed on petty vandals.

As no local Jewish community centers or schools were targeted in the recent spate of telephone threats, it "leads me to believe this has been local," she said.

"This is not really the norm for this community."