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Burial service for damaged tombstones 'a kind of closure'
Onlookers, rabbi take part in 'unusual' ceremony, one year after cemetery vandalism

The Jewish Post & News
September 12, 2000

WINNIPEG, Manitoba-Several dozen Jewish Winnipeggers took part in an unusual burial service August 13. After singing and reciting traditional Jewish songs and prayers of mourning, they took turns tossing shovelfuls of earth into a large hole in the southeast corner of Hebrew Sick Benefit Association Cemetery.

The half-hour service had all the hallmarks of a Jewish burial ceremony for the dead. But the small crowd at the ceremony at the north Winnipeg cemetery wasn't helping put a deceased person into a final resting place; they were assisting in the burial of several dozen tombstones, shattered beyond repair in the record-setting vandalism at the cemetery a year earlier.

"Last year, the whole community, the whole city, the whole country reacted to the shock of the most extensive cemetery desecration ever to occur on this continent," said Rabbi Alan Green, spiritual leader of Beth Israel Synagogue, which owns the cemetery. "More than 300 cemetery stones were overturned-many of them completely destroyed-in a single night of senseless, wanton violence.

"For many of us, seeing a toppled, broken monument, was like experiencing the death of a loved one all over again," Green said. Beth Israel has fixed "many" of the fallen tombstones, and "we are still about a year away" from finishing the repairs.

But now that a year has passed, "we want to effect a kind of closure," Green added. "The worst is now behind us. The perpetrators have been caught, and (some) sentenced. The damage is on the way to being completely repaired. It's time now to buy these broken monuments, and to move on with the next phase of our lives."
Onlookers sang the El Maleh Rachamim memorial prayer in memory of deceased who suffered the "indignity" of having their memorial stones damaged and destroyed. They also recited the mourners' Kaddish.

Green said after the ceremony that such burial services for damaged tombstones "aren't common at all" in Judaism. "Fortunately, it doesn't come up all that often."
He added that there's no "standard "for this kind of ceremony.

"This one, I put together myself," he said.

Lorne Raber, owner of Eden Memorials, has played a key role in repairing the tombstones. He said he was told there were probably "20 to 30" stones buried in the hole. Strolling through the cemetery, which dates back nearly a century, he noted that most of the vandalism happened on the north side of the cemetery.

Many other tombstones had toppled over earlier, because of "shifting soil" in this burial ground, which used to be a swamp.

"We probably put back up over 150 (tombstones)," Raber said, referring to his staff and HSBA Cemetery workers.

"We had a forklift here last Wednesday. There are some really heavy stones. Some could weigh a ton or more."

Markers are being placed on graves where damaged tombstones can't be replaced.

Sharon Bronstone, president of Beth Israel, said two of five young people charged in last year's vandalism had their trials remanded last week to September 5.

"They had to get a report from the probation officer, so the judge took account of that."

As for the one juvenile among the five, "we haven't heard...yet" when his hearing will be.

Betty Simon, a participant in the burial service for the tombstones with her husband, Monty, said no tombstones of any relatives of their relatives were toppled in last year's vandalism. "We were lucky none of them were knocked over."

Watching the ceremony, she felt sad that "so many folks had gravestones destroyed."

"It was an awful thing to see," Mrs. Simon said of the results of the vandalism.

As for the burial service for the tombstones, she felt Green was right.

"It was a kind of closure," she said.

© The Jewish Post & News, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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