Baltimore-area officials and faith and community leaders gathered Friday at German Hill Road Jewish Cemeteries to denounce acts of antisemitism after more than a dozen gravestones were spray-painted with swastikas this past weekend.
The vandalism was first discovered on Sunday by cemetery visitors, who then notified Steve Venick, the president of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore. Venick emailed one of the cemetery’s caretakers, Marty Glass, who put off his vacation to clean the headstones early Monday morning.
Baltimore police are investigating the incident and looking at leads for a possible suspect, spokeswoman Chakia Fennoy said.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said his organization has been in close contact with city police.
“Whether it was done by teenagers who may not know better, or adults who want to send a message to the Jewish community, in either case it was wrong,” Libit said in an interview.
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen began Friday’s news conference with a story about his great grandmother, who sewed coins into her clothing to prevent Nazis from stealing her money as she escaped Austria. She managed to escape to the U.S., but her family was murdered in the concentration camps, he said.
“If this country had not taken her in, however begrudgingly, I would not be standing here today serving my city and my country as an elected member of its government,” said Cohen, a Democrat who represents the district where the vandalism occurred.
He emphasized unity, thanking the various community organizations that came to the cemetery, close the city-county line near Dundalk.
“When you come for us, you’re coming for all of us,” Cohen said. “Here in Baltimore, we are each other’s keeper.”
Representatives from various Jewish organizations, the NAACP, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Christian faith leaders, CASA de Maryland, Organizing Black and more spoke Friday of the strength of diversity and solidarity in the face of hatred.
“An attack on one faith community is an attack on all faith communities,” said Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland director for the Council on American–Islamic Relations. “This transcends politics. It speaks to the core of our shared humanity.”
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The graffiti comes after hate crimes against Jews spiked in the United States in the aftermath of an outbreak of violence in Gaza, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Last month, Fells Point residents reported to Baltimore police that someone had spray-painted swastikas on four light poles in the area, according to an incident report. Police issued a criminal summons to a suspect for destruction of property on June 24.
Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka tweeted about defacing of the gravestones Wednesday, noting how painful the swastika symbol is for him as a child of Holocaust victims and survivors.
“To attack someone who is deceased, and then to attack them with such a hateful symbol is 100% reprehensible,” Patoka said in an interview. “I take it personally, and I say ‘how dare you’ to the cowards who did that.”
Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore NAACP, expressed sadness that someone would deface gravestones in a cemetery: a sacred place.
“Unfortunately, as saddening and maddening as it is, it is not surprising,” Little said. “ But I do believe that there is something that can keep the serpent of hate out of sacred gardens. That is love and unity.”
Cohen echoed Little’s comments in his closing statements, highlighting the diversity of the coalition that gathered in support of Baltimore’s Jewish community.
“We were brought here by an act of hatred, but more than that, we were brought here by love,” Cohen said. “Like Kobi and so many others said, it is love that’s holding us together here right now.”