France: Strasbourg Jewish cemetery vandalized

A Jewish cemetery in the eastern French city of Strasbourg was vandalized, according to a story on the World Jewish Congress website.

The attack occurred on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Over 30 gravestones at the Cronenbourg cemetery were either spray-painted with swastikas and the Nazi slogan “Juden raus!” [Jews out], or toppled, according to the French Jewish community organization CRIF.

Laurent Schmoll, president of the 1,000-member Jewish community in Strasbourg, told reporters that he believed the cemetery was defiled in connection with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was being observed on Wednesday. “These are absolutely inscriptions from the Nazi period… I think there has to be a link.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement in which he “firmly condemns this unbearable act, the expression of odious racism.” The mayor of Strasbourg said that the perpetrators were “evil cowards. It is no coincidence that the attack came on the international day when the Holocaust is commemorated.”

Greece: Public outrage at cemetery desecration

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos is the museum director of New York City’s Kehila Kedosha Janina (Ioannina), a congregation formed by early immigrants from this ancient Jewish Romaniote community.

Recently, she passed on good news concerning Christian citizens demonstrating publicly in support of the Jewish cemetery in Ioannina.

Marcia writes:

Normally I would wait for our monthly e-newsletter to pass on recent news from Greece, but some news deserves to be passed on immediately, especially when it is such good news. Too often, negativity makes the front page.

In recent years, anti-Semitism is all too prevalent.

What then can be more emotionally rewarding than to pass on the news of a recent mass demonstration against anti-Semitism?
Where did this demonstration take place? In Ioannina! It was organized by the Christian citizens of the city and was heralded as a “a human chain against racism.”

The cemetery was surrounded by the citizens of Ioannina to show their support for the Jewish community of the city and to publically show their outrage at recent desecrations of Jewish tombstones. In addition, a public exhibition was held, highlighting the ancient Jewish presence in the city and the importance of the Jewish cemetery as a monument to the long Jewish presence in Ioannina.

The committee that organized the public display of support made the following statement: “The Jewish cemetery is not only the religious space of the Jewish Community but, also, a cultural monument of our city, the protection of which, like other historical monuments of our city, is the duty of every citizen.”

Let us all applaud the good citizens of Ioannina who organized and took part in this historic event.

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos
Museum Director
Kehila Kedosha Janina
280 Broome Street
NYC, NY 10002

Visit the congregation’s website for more information. Click “Other Links” (on the left menu of that homepage) for many additional resources for Greek and Sephardic research. Read the online accessible newsletters and view other pages.

Poland: Sopot Jewish cemetery desecrated

According to the Jerusalem Post, vandals have desecrated a Jewish cemetery near Gdansk in northern Poland.

Scrawled on graves and the surrounding wall in the seaside Sopot Jewish cemetery were anti-Israel and anti-Jewish messages.

The desecration took place October 31, the eve of All Saints’ Day when Polish Catholics visit the graves of deceased relatives.

The local Jewish community head told the Jerusalem Post that it was a “really bad incident.” Authorities reacted immediately promised to do more to protect the cemetery, which is owned by the municipality.

“We are terribly sorry this act of vandalism happened. Unfortunately, human stupidity cannot be helped,” Sopot Deputy Mayor Pawel Orlowski told a Polish newspaper, adding: “We apologize that this has happened.” The act provoked a spontaneous reaction from the citizens of Sopot, who brought to the cemetery candles, flowers and a banner with the message “We are sorry”.

Established in 1913, the cemetery also has a monument to Jewish soldiers who died during World War I. Immediately before the Holocaust, Sopot’s small Jewish community numbered 130 – about half survived.

This is the second recent attack on area Jewish cemeteries. In September, anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the Gdansk Jewish cemetery entrance.

Police are investigating both incidents.

Read more at the link above.

Philly 2009: Hate group protest planned

While our annual Jewish genealogy conferences are always exciting for many reasons – usually focusing on family history – this year’s edition may have a bit more.

Daniel Sieradski, digital media editor at JTA.org, sent me a press release he had received concerning a planned protest at the conference by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

Yes, the name is familiar and you’ve seen them on the news. Led by Fred Phelps, it is the same group that spouts anti-gay, anti-Jewish and anti-black rhetoric. The ADL lists it as a hate group.

Tracing the Tribe was simply going to ignore it, not wanting to give them any publicity.

However, the Jewish Exponent just posted a story on the planned protest this weekend in Philadelphia, which will target the conference, area synagogues and Jewish institutions. Tracing the Tribe felt its readers should be informed.

According to the press release, Philadelphia is on their radar because of the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, at the Sheraton City Center Hotel. They plan to protest for 45 minutes mid-day Saturday and for 30 minutes very early Sunday morning.

As soon as Tracing the Tribe received the information, conference co-chair David Mink was informed.

Why are they targeting a Jewish genealogy conference?

The conference is co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). According to the hate group, it is targeting the IAJGS. In the church’s words:

“Yes. Israel has dealt treacherously with the Lord, and long ago trashed (thereby invalidating) His ancient covenant with her. The Jews killed Christ, and the genealogical lines of the 12 tribes and the Levitical priesthood are lost, until Christ returns and saves 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe). Hence, the IAJGS is a fraud.”

The Exponent spoke to the hate group’s attorney:

Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for the group, who was contacted by phone, said that church members are targeting Jewish institutions in as many cities as they can get to, and that their message to Jews is clear: “You killed Christ, and you are not going to get away with that and you know it.”

Philadelphia’s police department spokesman was interviewed by the Exponent:

Captain William Fisher, a police department spokesman, said that nearly two weeks ago, the church informed police of its plans. Fisher noted that officers will be stationed at each of the designated buildings.

“They themselves are not a violent group of people, although some of the things they protest for can infuriate other citizens. They use the First Amendment greatly to their advantage,” said the officer, who added that Westboro members have shown up in town numerous times in the past decade to protest various events.

“They don’t just protest against Jewish people. They protest against Catholics, gays and government, and everything in between,” said Fisher, adding that the Jewish community appeared well-informed and prepared for the demonstrations.

Some Greater Philadelphia synagogues have received more than 20 faxes from the church.

ADL associate regional director Nancy Baron-Baer told the Exponent that it just seems like their primary goal is to gain publicity for themselves.

She also provided good advice to conference attendees and to other sites where protests may take place:

Baron-Baer stressed that Jewish groups should not organize any counterprotests and that individuals attending services or other events should not speak to the protesters.

“My advice would be not to react, don’t directly engage them or confront them. Just go about your business,” said Baron-Baer, who added that any instance of hate speech can be made into a teachable moment about spreading a message of respect.

Read the complete Jewish Exponent story at the link above.

See you in Philadelphia!