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Headstones toppled at cemeteries

September 16th, 2006

Home News Tribune Online 09/16/06

PERTH AMBOY — Thirty-five headstones were toppled at two Jewish cemeteries this week, a little more than a week before the observance of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

A caretaker for the Temple Beth Mordecai Cemetery notified the head of that temple's cemetery committee about the damage early Monday.

"It happened over last weekend," said Louis Sher, head of the committee. "I was at the cemetery early Friday (Sept. 8). It was fine."

Sher said 20 headstones in the Temple Beth Mordecai Cemetery were toppled and nearby another 15 were knocked over in the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery. The cemeteries are located along Florida Grove Road in Perth Amboy.

Sher said the headstones were both large and small in size.

"They were all knocked over, a few were damaged and will have to be repaired," he said.

Deputy Police Chief E.J. McDonald said that, while the headstones were knocked over, there was no anti-Semitic graffiti.

"It does appear maybe it was kids," he said.

No problems have been reported at other cemeteries in the city, and police are paying closer attention to the Jewish cemeteries, McDonald said.

"Certainly it's disturbing to anyone who has family there," McDonald said.

Dr. Mona Shangold, president of the Friends for the Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries Inc., learned about the damage just a few days before leading tomorrow's tour of the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery. The organization initiated restoration and maintenance efforts at the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery on New Brunswick Avenue and the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery, both owned by Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh.

"It's really a terribly disrespectful thing," said Shangold who will still conduct the tour. "It's a tradition for Jewish people to visit the cemetery before the high holidays to remember the deceased."

Shangold said the tours also are a way to note history. For some, it will be their first chance to see the improvements. She said landscapers have done a wonderful job of restoring dignity and beauty to the historic cemeteries, which are the final resting place for many members of the Perth Amboy Jewish community from the early 20th century.

Shangold said putting the headstones back in place is an enormous job, requiring special equipment.

"We hope to be able to restore dignity to the cemetery," she said.

Shangold said she hopes police find who did the damage.

"I imagine it's a random act. I hope it wasn't a more significant event than that," Shangold said.

McDonald said the Police Department's Juvenile Aid Bureau is investigating. Anyone with information is asked to call Perth Amboy police at (732) 442-4400.


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