‘Carry my bones’

Cemetery vandalism an attack on sacred memory

Mar 13, 2017 by

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Anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. have surged in the form of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Threatening phone calls to Jewish organizations and schools in more than a dozen states on Feb. 27 marked the fifth wave of such incidents in two months.

The latest round of threats, raising the total to 90, occurred after hundreds of headstones were vandalized at two Jewish cemeteries in one week. More than 170 gravestones were toppled at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis, and 100 more were damaged at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia. These violations are the latest examples of an alarming rise in incidents of bigotry, including a multiyear surge in hate crimes by white supremacists, documented by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Among the acts of hate, cemetery vandalism stands out as an attack on sacred memory. Anyone who has buried a loved one can understand the pain a grave desecration causes. But only a member of a religious or racial minority group that has endured prejudice can know the anguish that wells up from an attack on the identity of one’s people.

Reports of those who gathered to repair the damaged gravestones bring to mind the reverence the ancient Israelites showed for the remains of their patriarch Joseph. What might appear to be little more than a biblical footnote is in fact a remarkable example of faithfulness. Before his death in Egypt, Joseph directed his family to “carry my bones up from this place” (Gen. 50:25). A distant future generation would fulfill this vow. Four hundred years passed before the exodus, followed by 40 years in the wilderness, but Joseph’s bones were never lost or forgotten. Finally, near the end of the Book of Joshua, we read: “And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem” (24:32). Today’s burial sites are no less sacred. In a show of interfaith solidarity, Christians and Muslims joined Jews to restore the holy places and overcome the hate.


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