St. Petersburg cemetery hit by wave of anti-Semitic attacks

120 graves broken in two incidents, coninciding with breaking of kosher restaurant windows.

A wave of vandalism, coinciding with the start of the Jewish New Year, has hit the Jewish community of St. Petersburg, Russia.

On the morning of October 6, approximately 70 freshly destroyed gravestones were discovered in the St. Petersburg Jewish cemetery. Nine days later, 50 more headstones were destroyed. The headstones were pushed over and in many cases, broke upon impact.

The cemetery has a fence running along three of its four sides, but its southern side is open. It was there, furthest away from the watchman positioned near the entrance to the cemetery, that most of the damage took place.

Also, on the night of October 7, two bricks were thrown at the windows of Shalom, a kosher restaurant. According to the restaurant's guard, who asked not to be identified, the bricks pierced posters attached to the windows, but failed to shatter the windows. He believes the incident to be a random act of violence not connected with the incidents at the cemetery.

The second wave of vandalism in the cemetery came only days after a communal cleaning and repair effort carried out by Jewish groups. The Russian Union of Jewish Students, Hillel, the Israeli Cultural Center and the Jewish community joined together to remove debris from the cemetery and raise fallen headstones.

Although a police investigation is under way, no one is being charged in the incidents.

It is not clear what motivated these attacks, as the perpetrators did not leave any signs. But Victor Pliner, the president of the Russian Union of Jewish Students, believes that the timing of the events - they occurred as Jews were marking Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot - makes it seem likely that anti-Semitism was the motivation for the attacks.

The burial ground, called the Preobrazhenskoye cemetery, is owned by the city, but is partially operated by the Burial House, a private company. According to Moshe Treskunov, a spokesman for the local Jewish community, recent disputes between the two entities have led to many management problems.

Menachem Pevzner, the chief rabbi of St. Petersburg, said that it became known in recent meetings with city officials that money had been allocated for the construction of a fence around the entire perimeter of the cemetery. But no action has been taken to build the fence.

Pliner expressed his frustration at the lack of initiative on behalf of the city's administration and police force.

"Cemeteries subject to racist attacks should be guarded. It's not so difficult; you need to put up a fence and install video surveillance," Pliner told JTA.

A press release issued by the St. Petersburg Jewish Community expressed concern about the crimes and stated that measures undertaken by local law-enforcement agencies have been inadequate.

Treskunov said meetings were being held with city officials in which they are discussing issues of security, management and gravestone repair reimbursements.