North’s Jewish community dismayed at desecration of graves

Around 10 graves were desecrated in a walled-off section of Belfast’s City Cemetery

 The damaged  gravestones in the Jewish section of Belfast’s City Cemetery. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

The damaged gravestones in the Jewish section of Belfast’s City Cemetery. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

 

Northern Ireland’s small Jewish community has expressed dismay at a violent attack on Jewish headstones in Belfast’s City Cemetery, which is being treated by police as a hate crime.

In the second such incident in five years, around 10 graves were desecrated in a walled-off section of the cemetery on the Falls Road in the west of the city.

Michael Black, chairman of Belfast Jewish community, said it has caused unease among Jews, and that the vandals appear to be acting with “impunity”.

“I don’t know what is going on in their heads,” he said of those responsible. “Any type of vandalism and especially on a cemetery gravestone; what can you say about them? I can’t even think of the words to express . It’s very sad, obviously.

“I wasn’t totally shocked because it is not unique to either the Jewish cemetery or other cemeteries. But it is a reflection, maybe, of mindless acts of violence and vandalism perpetrated by a few people living among us.”

Mr Black said attacks happen on a “regular basis”.

“Part of me gets a little, I wouldn’t say angry, but the fact that they can get away with it without being brought to justice.. they seem to be able to vandalise with impunity.”

In 2016, 13 graves in the same plot were damaged in a similar attack.

The North’s Jewish community, dating back to the mid-18th century, once numbered around 1,500 but the last remaining synagogue in Belfast has only around 60 members.

Mr Black said there has been “very reassuring” offers of help and support – both financial and offers to help clean up the damage – from across the wider community in the wake of the latest attack, believed to have happened sometime on Thursday evening.

On Monday efforts will be made to identify the families of the deceased whose gravestones were damaged.

“A lot of these headstones are going back maybe 100 years, so their families may not be living here anymore,” said Mr Black. “Their descendants might never find out, which is in a way a good thing, although they should know that it is happening.”

PSNI inspector Róisín Brown said she was “appalled at these criminal acts”.

“City Cemetery, like any graveyard, is a place where members of the community come to pay their respects. The damage to these graves shows a total lack of respect for others, and will have a significant impact on individuals and families within the Jewish community.”

Insp Brown said the attack was being investigated as a “hate crime”, and she appealed for help from the local community “to hold those responsible to account for their actions”.