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Gravestones in Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery vandalized

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Dozens of Jewish graves and tombstones were shattered and desecrated in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany

By ILANIT CHERNICK

What’s believed to be Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery, the Heiliger Sand in the German city of Worms, was vandalized late last week, the European Jewish Association confirmed on Sunday.

Dozens of Jewish graves and tombstones were reportedly shattered and desecrated in the ancient Jewish cemetery.

“The Jewish community in Germany is in shock after unknown individuals vandalized and desecrated dozens of gravestones in the ancient Jewish cemetery in the city of Worms,” the EJA said in a statement. “Thousands of Jewish worshipers visit the Jewish cemetery every year, considered one of the oldest in Europe.”

Among the desecrated gravestones was also the tomb of the Maharam of Rothenburg who served as one of the chief Ashkenazi rabbis in the Middle Ages (1220-1293) and was known for his revolutionary leadership at that time.

According to a press release from the Jewish community in Worms, many of the desecrated gravestones were smeared with paint. 

“It is not yet possible to determine exactly how many gravestones are affected because the color often resembles the patina of the stones,” the community said. “Currently, the estimates are from 50 to 100 gravestones.”

Rabbi Joseph Havlin, the head of the Frankfurt court near Worms, said he was shocked about the desecration of the cemetery. 

“We are witnessing, and not for the first time, desecration of German [Jewish] cemeteries alongside a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the entire public sphere,” he said. “We call on the German government to declare an uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism to ensure that such acts do not repeat.”

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Condemned the ongoing rise of antisemitism across the continent. 

“There is no doubt that the corona crisis has brought with it a sharp rise in antisemitic discourse on the Internet, and now that most of the closures have been lifted, we unfortunately see how the toxic discourse on social media is turning into physical attacks on Jewish institutions and symbols.”

Margolin echoed Havlin’s comments and also called on the German government to act swiftly not only to rejuvenate the cemetery “but to formally declare the acceptance of the comprehensive program to combat antisemitism that that we initiated, which includes a substantial change in the curriculum in the state education system.”

According to a local news report, a 47-year-old woman was detained by police but her motivations and involvement were unclear at this stage.

Image credit: Stadtverwaltung Worms

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