Jewish community reeling after five gravestones desecrated

Victoria police say the large stones were spray-painted with black swastikas and other images

Caretaker Geoffrey Perkins stands beside one of the five headstones vandalized with swastikas in the Emanu-El Jewish Cemetery on Cedar Hill Road. A removal agent has been applied to the stone

Wounded, hurt, angry.

Those feelings channeled through Rabbi Harry Brechner after learning that five historic gravestones in Emanu-El Jewish Cemetery in Victoria – all belonging to Holocaust survivors – had been desecrated.

Victoria police say the large stones were spray-painted with black swastikas and other images sometime between 8 p.m. on Dec. 30 and the early morning hours of Dec. 31.

“I think I felt, on a certain level, violation, a bit wounded and from there it kind of moved to anger … I think it’s perfectly natural to be angered when you’ve been hurt,” said Brechner, who has been a rabbi with Congregation Emanu-El, a Jewish synagogue in Victoria, for more than 10 years.

“Aside from maybe the Confederate flag or the hood of a Ku Klux Klansman, (the swastika) is a symbol of hatred directed towards us as Jews, and that’s hard,” Brechner said.

The case is being investigated by police as a hate crime, which potentially could result in hate crime charges in addition to charges of mischief, said Const. Mike Russell, Victoria police spokesperson.

It’s not the first time a hate crime against the Jewish community has happened in Victoria.

A city park near the Chabad Synagogue at Quadra and Finlayson streets was tagged with spray-painted swastikas two years ago, Brechner said.

But the cemetery vandalism is especially shocking to the Jewish community. There are between 2,000 and 4,000 Jews living on Vancouver Island, most of them in the Capital Region, the Victoria resident said.

“I think the cemetery is sacred ground,” Brechner said. “To enter a cemetery and desecrate graves is different than spraying graffiti on a playground. It’s got a different impact.”

To help heal the pain, the public is invited to attend a vigil on Sunday (Jan. 8) at 1 p.m. at the cemetery, located at Cedar Hill and Fernwood roads, off Hillside Avenue.

In the meantime, Brechner plans to speak on the anti-Semitic act at his synagogue’s Saturday service.

His message, especially to children, will be: “We’re safe, we’re strong.”

The Jewish community has been shown tremendous support during this difficult time, Brechner said, adding that many people have offered to help clean up the desecrated gravestones in the burial ground that was consecrated in 1860.

“We’re not experiencing this alone,” Brechner said.

A Victoria police detective is leading the investigation, and plans to liaise with B.C.’s Hate Crime Team of RCMP and Vancouver police officers – the only provincial hate crime policing team in Canada, said Russell.

Police are hoping a tipster will shed light on this case.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

 

 

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