Local politicians and NYPD investigators responded to more than 40 toppled headstones found at a historic and predominantly Jewish cemetery in Midwood on Saturday, calling the incident an act of anti-Semitism and ‘desecration.’
“It’s heartbreaking—not just to the loved ones of those who are buried here, but to all of us,” said Assembly Member Dov Hikind at a press conference on Sunday with NYPD, the Boro Park Shomrim, Council Member David Greenfield and other community leaders.
But after an NYPD investigation at the cemetery, it was determined that the toppled stones incident was not a hate crime and that the damage appeared to be old — perhaps years or decades old, according to an NYPD spokesperson. They could have toppled because of age and environmental conditions like soil erosion or wind.
“There was no vandalism,” said a representative who answered the phone at the Washington Cemetery on Monday morning. “The stones were 200 years old. They’re old stones that nobody takes care of,” he said, and from time to time the stones lean and fall.
“The stones were 200 years old. They’re old stones that nobody takes care of,” he said, and from time to time the stones lean and fall.
But even after the investigation results, Dov Hikind isn’t ready to put the issue to rest.
“These [overturned] stones were all in the same section where barbed-wire had been cut,” said Hikind in a statement released after the results. “So strong winds hit this section and left the other ones alone? I find that hard to believe. Something is definitely not kosher.”
The toppled headstones in Washington Cemetery comes after several cases of vandalism at Jewish Cemeteries in recent weeks, including a case in Rochester last week and similar incidents in St. Louis and Philadelphia cemeteries.
This isn’t the first time the historic cemetery made headlines for toppled headstones. In 2010, the Washington Cemetery was the target of two vandalism investigations after 200 headstones were found toppled and riddled with graffiti.
The Washington Cemetery, between Bay Parkway and Ocean Parkway near Midwood, has been called severely overcrowded, with about 200,000 burials in the 100-acre cemetery. It has also earned headlines as a symbol of the city’s cemetery overcrowding problem.