Rock wall at B'nai Zion Cemetery with Nazi graffiti | Photo courtesy Hannah Schultz

El Paso’s B’Nai Zion Cemetery Desecrated; FBI, EPPD Investigating

El Pasoans awoke Monday to the news of the desecration of the B’Nai Zion cemetery, adjacent to Concordia Cemetery.

According to social media posts, gravestones, a wall and the driveway were spray painted with anti-semitic symbols.  Crews with the city arrived mid-morning to remove the graffiti from around the cemetery.

Via his Facebook Page, Shane Lipson, President of B’Nai Zion Congregation, shared the following details of the attack and the progress of the investigation.

I am saddened to report that this morning it was discovered that the B’Nai Zion cemetery had been desecrated. Two grave stones, a rock wall, and the asphalt drive were spray painted with anti-Semitic symbols. I’m writing to provide a brief update to our Community.

*) Both the FBI and El Paso Police Department spent multiple hours this morning gathering forensic evidence.
*) Multiple supportive agencies have been contacted including the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation of El Paso (Jewish Community Relations Council), El Paso Border Interfaith Council, and Temple Mount Sinai. The desecration was limited to the B’Nai Zion side of the cemetery.
*) Our Executive Director, Debra Pazos, and 1st Vice President, Edward Dubowitz, spent this morning assisting law enforcement and inventorying damage. We have been cleared by the FBI to begin the cleanup process that will begin tomorrow.

The FBI noted that often groups will comment or boast on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) after such incidents. They have asked us to assist by keeping an eye out on social media for any postings related to a cemetery or desecration. Meanwhile, they are actively pursuing the investigation.

In conjunction with Temple Mount Sinai, we will also be taking a look at security protocols and options to better protect our precious cemetery for the future.

Although it grieves me to deliver this message, it is important that we remain strong and united in the face of hatred such as this.

Hazak, hazak, v’nitchazek: Be Strong, Be Strong, Let us be Strengthened 
– Shane Lipson, President

Via the Museums and Cultural Affairs Department – City of El Paso Facebook Page, the  El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center released the following statement:

El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center was saddened to learn that B’nai Zion’s Cemetery has been vandalized. Over the weekend, two grave stones, a rock wall, and the asphalt drive were spray painted with anti-Semitic symbols. Whether this was a targeted attack by an anti-Semitic organization or misguided youth playing a cruel prank, El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center condemns these vile actions in the strongest terms.

Today, our thoughts are with the congregation of B’nai Zion, especially those members whose family’s headstones were desecrated. To learn that a place of solace, memory, and reverence has been violated is too painful of a prejudice for anyone to have to endure and simply inexcusable.

The Museum’s mission is to stand as a beacon against hatred and prejudice and to use education as a path to a more enlightened future. EPHM teaches the history of the Holocaust in order to combat prejudice and intolerance through its educational programming, community outreach, and cultural activities.

EPHM’s Board President Mika Cohen Jones calls on all El Pasoans to stand up against this bigotry and calls on all of us to make our voices heard. Jones explains, “We will not stand for El Paso to be torn apart along racial, ethnic, gender, or religious lines. Every one of us who is part of this community has to also be part of our fight against hate.”

At EPHM, we know that anti-Semitism did not begin or end with the Holocaust. And, that is why we are here, still sharing the stories of the victims and the survivors, because there is work left to be done. But, we also know that El Paso is an amazing community of caring citizens. So, we ask that each of you do what you can during this time. Your actions can be as simple as reaching out on social media or visiting the Museum to learn more about your Jewish neighbors and this important chapter in our community’s collective history. And, remember; if you see something, say something. Together, we make El Paso stronger and safer.

To learn more about the El Paso Holocaust Museum & Study Center, please visit their webpage.

Late Monday, the Jewish Community Relations Council of El Paso and Southern New Mexico (JCRC-EPSNM) released the following statement on the desecration.

JCRC-EPSNM strongly condemns the hate crime perpetrated against the El Paso Jewish Cemetery. On Sunday morning, June 24, 2018, it was discovered that one or more perpetrators had entered the Jewish Cemetery and painted swastikas and other graffiti on headstones, walls and the driveway on the eastern side of the Cemetery.

El Paso law enforcement was promptly notified and the FBI and the El Paso Police Department conducted a comprehensive on-site investigation including the gathering of significant forensic evidence. There are no suspects yet and it is unknown whether this hate crime was perpetrated by an organized hate group, or was the work of a “lone wolf.” The investigation is ongoing and we appreciate and support the work of the FBI and EPPD.

A measurable rise in hate speech and hate crimes has occurred in our country in the last few years and this deeply disturbing local event serves as an unfortunate reminder that hate-filled individuals and hate-motivated organizations exist not only across our nation, but also here in El Paso.

During the past year JCRC-EPSNM issued a public statement strongly condemning the rise of white supremacy in the United States. That statement noted that between September 1, 2016, and November 15, 2017, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) counted 302 incidents of white supremacist fliers, posters, banners, and stickers on 197 college campuses in 42 states. The great majority of these incidents occurred since Sept 1, 2017, versus a much smaller level during the same period in 2016, reflecting an exponential increase in the hate-motivated activities of white supremacists.

Along with communities of color, many Jewish communities are main targets of white nationalist rhetoric and activity. Some of the most serious cases receive ample publicity, including the 2009 shooting attack on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the 2001 arson attacks on three Sacramento synagogues.

However, many anti-Semitic incidents are not covered by the media as prominently as they should be. According to ADL, in each of the past three years, synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country have been vandalized approximately fifty times, in many cases with white supremacist iconography such as swastikas. Regrettably, we now must add the El Paso Jewish Cemetery to the list of those targeted.

The rise of anti-Semitic and racist white supremacy in the United States was exemplified by the August 11 and 12, 2017, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, featuring a torch-lit march, racist and anti-Semitic signs, and chants including “Jews will not replace us.” “Unite the Right” shocked many Americans, who had no idea that white supremacists were so numerous and brazen in their expressions of hate. It is time for all those who believe in freedom to stand up in opposition.

As Albert Einstein said: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Therefore, it is imperative that all citizens of every faith, creed and color who believe in the promise of America and its constitutional protections, be vocal in opposing hate-motivated rhetoric and actions.

To that end, JCRC-EPSNM strongly condemns the heinous hate crime perpetrated against the El Paso Jewish Cemetery and urges public officials and law enforcement to continue to take all hate crimes seriously and to spare no effort in preventing and stopping would-be perpetrators and vigorously prosecuting those who are apprehended.