By Hannah Paxton ’19
While most would like to believe that prejudice towards the Jewish community is a thing of the past, the damaged and disintegrated gravestones in a historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri send a different mesaage. Over 170 graves were vandalized at the 124 year old cemetery on the weekend of Feb. 18, with no suspects and no motives besides hatred.
Although other forms of issues may appear more dominant in our national discourse, such as other forms of racism, misogyny, and poverty, the recent violence and discrimination targeted towards this Jewish community demands major national attention. Jews deserve the same attention we pay to other suppressed groups of people, and certainly deserve the same respect in death.
While the events of the Holocaust have long since passed, that does not mean the controversies and mindsets that catalyzed such a devastating occurrence disappeared with it. Hatred for Jewish people is as real as the crumbled and toppled stones in the St. Louis cemetery.
The hatred that fueled mass murder of an entire people is the same hatred that motivated someone to deface a tombstone.
This contemptuous incident brought many to the cemetery, fearing their loved one’s grave was affected, anticipating that their Jewish identity had something to do with such disrespect. Regardless of the perpetrator’s motives, something so contemptible can only come from a place of hostility and prejudice. The people buried beneath those gravestones may be dead, but their memory has been greatly dishonored and their families are left deeply offended.
It is horrible enough to consider what took place in St. Louis, but the contempt for Jews in 2017 does not end there. Bomb threats were made to Jewish Community Centers all over the country on the same day that the report came of the vandalism of the cemetery.
And on Saturday, February 25, a second Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Philadelphia. Seventy-five to 100 gravestones were overturned, making it the second instance of targeting a Jewish cemetery in less than a week.Each of these issues were largely ignored yet are just as impactful as any other circumstance of racial prejudice.
With all of this in mind, it is hard to argue that anti-Semitism is predominantly an irrelevant issue in our time.
While no person was physically harmed in either of these events, it is the mentality behind incidents like this that is most distressing. For whatever reason, there are people in this country who think it is acceptable to act on their contempt for others, but the hate and violence that these extremists promote can not be tolerated in our nation. Whether they respond out of fear, hatred, ignorance, or perhaps all three, these are the people who are dragging the country backwards. Rather than moving forward with compassion and respect for people of all backgrounds and beliefs, they insist on clinging to the damaging mentality of the past, and it is daunting to imagine what could become of this horrible and unacceptable behavior.