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Replacements coming for headstones broken by vandals at Jewish cemetery in University City

Workers with Rosenbloom Monuments Company re-set headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Tuesday morning. (Feb. 21, 2017)
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Workers with Rosenbloom Monuments Company re-set headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Feb. 21, 2017.

Except for a few broken gravestones and scattered painted pebbles, no visible signs of last month’s vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in University City remain.

Within three days, workers uprighted most of the 154 toppled monuments at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery and resealed them to their bases.

“There was a hand of God in it,” cemetery director Anita Feigenbaum said. “During this whole time, until everything was settled, we didn’t have one funeral. Now, we get 30 to 40 percent of all the Jewish funerals [in the region], and there were 15 funerals during that time.”

Feigenbaum said Rosenbloom Monument Company also dropped everything to help repair the damage.

A few broken gravestones remain because making replacements takes time. The cemetery also had to make an attempt to contact the families before replacing them.

“In a cemetery, the stones don’t belong to the cemetery. The stones belong to the family. We don’t take responsibility or liability; it’s the family,” Feigenbaum said. “But here you have something that happened and we want very much to help. So legally we have to reach out to the families.

“We had international exposure, which allowed countless people to contact us to find out about their families," she said. "So that covers reasonable attempt to reach the families.”

Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery plans to replace all 16 broken gravestones with a thicker, higher quality granite. Rosenbloom monuments has records of what was written on the stones. Feigenbaum said all the orders have been placed, but making replacements takes at least three months.

Because law enforcement officials haven’t notified cemetery officials of any persons of interest, Feigenbaum said she is trying to avoid assigning a motive.

“Whatever the case — whoever and how many people did it — it is criminal. It is a lack of common decency. It is a lack of values,” she said. “It is considerate and violates our sense of calm. It’s a terrible thing they did.”

In a colorful variation on the Jewish practice of placing small stones or pebbles on top of gravestones as a sign of remembrance, the 154 damaged monuments are each marked by a painted stone. 

Feigenbaum said an 8-year-old girl from Florida sent the stones to remember a relative buried at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. Local school children placed the stones on the monuments damaged by vandals.

Sabine Adler of Deutschlandradio contributed to this report.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille