St. Paul police and the FBI are investigating the desecration of a Jewish cemetery near the border of St. Paul and Maplewood, where 32 headstones were knocked down some time between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
Ken Otto, chairman of the Chesed Shel Emes cemetery, said that there was no damage to any of the roughly 500 monuments when he left on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. But the next day, when mowing the grass around noon, he noticed that headstones in the eastern section of the plot had been pushed over.
“This is a beautiful cemetery, it’s close to my home,” Otto said. “You put your heart and your soul into it…and you see that somebody just does stupid stuff like this. These people didn’t do nothing to nobody. They’re dead.”
As of Friday late afternoon, all the headstones are restored to their original, upright position.
When reached for comment about the investigation, Sgt. Natalie Davis, who handles St. Paul police communications, wrote in an email that “officers took photos of the damage and this is an ongoing investigation. No arrests have been made.”
“In light of this incident, and other incidents around the metro, we are increasing patrol and visits at synagogues and other Jewish community centers in St. Paul,” she said.
There was no graffiti or other damage to the monuments other than them being knocked down, in contrast to some other instances of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized. Union Cemetery in Maplewood, a non-Jewish cemetery just 12 minutes drive away from the Chesed Shel Emes cemetery, also had many monuments knocked down in early August.
Otto thinks that the perpetrators are kids with nothing better to do, which he experienced once before when working at another cemetery in St. Paul in 1994 that also had monuments knocked down. “That was a bunch of kids, and those kids got caught. And those kids had to do 100 hours of community service at the cemetery,” he said.
But this time, Otto says it’s unlikely that the perpetrators will be caught and the investigation will be closed. There’s a camera by the cemetery’s workshop, but not where the monuments were vandalized. Otto hasn’t heard anything from neighbors who keep a watch on the cemetery. The only hope of seeing and identifying the vandals is camera footage from some nearby houses.
“It’s just very disheartening for it to happen,” Otto said. “I hear about it happening…you see it, but it never happens to you. Well, it finally happened to me.”
Several Jewish security, public relations, and anti-hate organizations have reached out to coordinate with law enforcement on the investigation.
“ADL Midwest is aware of and horrified by the vandalization of a Jewish cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota,” said Anti-Defamation League Midwest executive director David Goldenberg in a statement. “Our staff has been in touch with community leaders and federal and local law enforcement to offer ADL’s support and assistance in the investigation.”
When reached for comment, Michael Masters, CEO and national director of the Secure Community Network, said, “we’re coordinating closely with the JCRC and Community Security Director Rob Allen in monitoring the situation. We will provide any and all level of support we can to the community.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said they learned of the cemetery desecration while also dealing with a threat of violence against Beth El synagogue that shut down all in-person activities. “The JCRC is taking this incident very seriously and we are working with our law enforcement partners as they investigate this matter,” said a JCRC statement. “We do not know at this time if these separate incidents are related.”