LYNDHURST After swastikas were spray-painted on several tombstones at the Hillside Cemetery during Memorial Day weekend, the Anti-Defamation League and the Lyndhurst School District have designed a hate-crimes awareness program that it was set to implement yesterday.
A mourner discovered graffiti swastikas on several tombstones in the Mount Zion section of the cemetery May 30. The vandals apparently entered the cemetery through a hole in the surrounding fence. Police and the ADL both believe the vandals are misguided teenagers, and that the swastikas are not evidence of a more serious growth of anti-Semitism in the area.
"Unfortunately with the summer months and the long weekend, when juveniles have too much time on their hands they get involved with mischief," said Etzion Neuer, director of the ADL’s New Jersey office.
The ADL said that if the vandalism was the act of hate groups, it most likely would have included more sophisticated hate symbols, words, or phrases. For example, neo-Nazis may have left an "88," which corresponds to the letters HH, and represents "Heil Hitler." The presence of only swastikas leads the ADL to believe the incident was not the work of a larger hate group.
"Probably the vast majority of these types of incidents turn out to be the work of juveniles," Neuer said.
But Neuer said that he does not believe that the prospective young vandals were ignorant of the message they left, which is why the ADL organized the hate-crime program at the behest of local police.
The Lyndhurst police contacted the ADL office immediately, said the associate director of the ADL’s New Jersey office, Alana Cooper. "[The] office has been really proactive along with the school to make sure this isn’t something they sit on, and make sure if it was students, that the students know why this is such a heinous act."
Cooper was set to spend Thursday addressing every student in the school about what constitutes a hate crime and how to recognize hate symbols. The ADL and Lyndhurst police suspect that teenagers were responsible for the cemetery vandalism and wanted to reinforce a message against hate with the students.
Cooper hopes to hold more workshops in the fall. She said that if indeed the cemetery vandalism turned out to be the work of teenagers, she would most likely be speaking directly to the perpetrators at the school, so she planned on taking a non-accusatory approach to the student body.
"Hate is hurtful and it takes something away from the community," she said. "Having these conversations helps break the cycle."
According to an ADL audit released in April, New Jersey reported ’66 statewide incidents of anti-Semitism in ‘005, the second highest ranking in the country, behind only New York. In a per-county breakdown, Middlesex led with 34 incidents in ‘005, and Ocean County ranked second with 3’ incidents. Bergen County ranked fourth out of New Jersey’s ‘0 counties with ‘9, down from 37 in ‘004.
The numbers don’t necessarily indicate a rising trend in anti-Semitism. Rather, they could symbolize better reporting by the police, Cooper said. The police, both local and on the state level, have been "incredibly effective" in requiring reports on anti-Semitic crime and sending them to the ADL, she said.
"Part of the reason is that people report it and police take it seriously," she said, adding that it is a shame that such incidents take place.
Lyndhurst police chief James O’Connor has been in the area for ‘8 years and this is the first act of this kind that he has seen.
The police department is continuing its investigation, and O’Connor said that acts like the cemetery vandalism "won’t be tolerated."
He said that he wants his department to arrest the vandals. He has added patrols, and has had his department distribute fliers expressing outrage in an attempt to prevent copycat vandals.
"In the rest of my tenure and rest of my life, I hope I never have to see something like that again," O’Connor said. "We will not tolerate these despicable acts and we will expend all our resources to find the persons responsible for this."
Anti-Semitic incidents in NJ in ‘005, by county
Ocean Bergen Camden
3′ ‘9 ‘1
Burlington Passaic Gloucester
6 5 4
Cape May Sussex