Vandals defaced a Jewish cemetery in a El, Paso, Texas, over the weekend. They spray painted and tagged grave sites with anti-Semitic images including swastikas and references to Adolf Hitler, say authorities.
Many learned about the desecration in the B’nai Zion section of the Concordia Cemetery in Central El Paso when Congregation B’nai Zion President Shane Lipson broke the unfortunate news on Facebook. He wrote, “Although it grieves me to deliver this message, it is important that we remain strong and united in the face of hatred such as this.”
Edward Dubowitz, the synagogue’s first vice president, discovered the anti-Semitic scrawlings on Sunday. This included swastikas, the spray painted likeness of Adolf Hitler with his last name spelled out, and other Nazi phrases and images on two headstones, an asphalt driveway, and a rock wall.
Lipson said synagogue leadership contacted El Paso police, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of El Paso, and the El Paso Border Interfaith Council. El Paso police spokesman Sgt. Enrique Carrillo told the El Paso Times the vandalism occurred on Friday evening and, again, on Sunday morning. He described the damages as “anti-Semitic graffiti” and estimated cleanup costs at around $500.
The Special Investigations Unit of the El Paso Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are investigating this case as a hate crime.
City Councilman Peter Svarzbein called the defacement “not representative” of the community. “It makes me angry,” said Svarzbein, also a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater El Paso. “We, as a community, need to be vigilant and not accept this in any way, shape, or form,” he told the El Paso Times.
“To think my grandmother survived the Holocaust and all these decades later this kind of filth, these kinds of disgusting actions are still going on,” said Svarzbein. “It’s really not acceptable. I know our community is better than this.”
KVIA reported that B’nai Zion’s retired synagogue director Sam Belford said the last time they experienced this kind of anti-Semitism was 10-15 years ago.
On Monday, the El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center (EPHM) and the Museums and Cultural Affairs Department (MCAD) released a lengthy joint statement condemning these “vile actions” regardless of whether they were a “targeted attack by an anti-Semitic organization or misguided youth playing a cruel prank.”
EPHM stated, in part, “Today, our thoughts are with the congregation of B’nai Zion, especially those members whose family’s headstones were desecrated. To learn that a place of solace, memory, and reverence has been violate is too painful of a prejudice for anyone to have to endure and simply inexcusable.”
The El Paso Holocaust Museum describes its mission “to stand as a beacon against hatred and prejudice” using “education as a path to a more enlightened future.” It is one of 13 free-standing Holocaust museums that exist in the United States.
EPHM Board President Mika Cohen called on El Pasoans “to stand up against this bigotry.”
Congregation B’nai Zion is a longtime fixture in El Paso, chartered in 1900. According to the Texas Historical Commission, the congregants’ house of worship was completed in 1912. It was the first Jewish synagogue in El Paso. Their membership eventually outgrew the venue and the congregation relocated in 1927; however, that original building, which is known as the Old B’nai Zion Synagogue, was designated a Texas historical landmark in 1984.
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