Julie Guilfoyle
Mental Health Therapist, Writer and Victim Advocate

Multiple Antisemitic Incidents in Cincinnati – Including 176 Vandalized Graves

Vandalism at Cincinnati Jewish Cemetery - June 2024 by Gilda Schwartz
Vandalism at Cincinnati Jewish Cemetery - June 2024 by Gilda Schwartz

Jewish Hate has risen in the United States to a level that is making some Jews, myself included, question if being part of the Jewish community is worth the cost.  Is the United States still a safe haven for the Jewish people?

Desecrated Cincinnati Jewish Cemetery – July 2024 by Gilda Schwartz

The disturbing and alarming rise in antisemitic incidents across the country has recently hit home.  Due to two serious and recent events, the adage “it can’t happen here” is no longer vocalized in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In an unprecedented attack on the Jewish Community, 176 gravestones were vandalized in two Jewish cemeteries in my hometown.  Some of the tombstones that were desecrated date back to the 1800s, saddening, angering, and sending shockwaves of fear throughout the Cincinnati Jewish community. 

According to Justin Kirschner, Regional Director of AJC Cincinnati, “This incident is unfortunately part of a rising and unacceptable trend of Jewish sites being targeted by antisemitic hate in recent years. Sadly, our community is not immune.”

The rise of Jewish hate has forced many of us to put forward difficult questions about feeling safe while being involved in our Jewish organizations.  It has become a pressing issue, causing many Jews to question whether being actively and outwardly Jewish is worth the potential costs.  It is heartbreaking to hear the number of people who openly state that they no longer feel welcome or safe in our community.  

This gruesome act of antisemitism falls on the heels of another antisemitic incident. Simply cause they were Jewish, two of my personal friends were threatened with acts of violence and for their own safety were forced to resign from the Cincinnati Pride Board.  The unfortunate event has caused a wedge between the Cincinnati LGBTQ and Jewish communities that will likely take years to resolve.

After finding themselves on the receiving end of a socialist group’s “Naming and Shaming” campaign, two married Jewish organizers of a Cincinnati-area Pride group resigned from their roles last week over concerns for their personal safety.

“Individuals and Organizations have targeted our board members, including [with] threats of violence,” Cincinnati Pride said in an Instagram statement.

 In the past, I freely attended synagogue with little, and maybe not enough, thought about my safety.  Like others, I held tight to the “it could never happen here” delusion that many of us cling to in order to feel safe.  But it is becoming increasingly obvious that Cincinnati and the United States as a whole, are no longer a safe haven for the Jewish community. 

For me personally, the cemetery incident happened at a time when I was beginning to plan my own funeral arrangements.  Being buried in a Jewish Cemetery was important to me, important enough that I was making my own arrangements to ensure my wishes were respected.  I am now, however, questioning that decision.  I must ask myself, is being buried in a Jewish cemetery important enough to me to possibly put my family through this kind of anguish in the future?   The idea of my family enduring this kind of emotional trauma is weighing heavily on my mind.  The emotional and financial cost to families is monumental.

Sue Susskind, executive director of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati, indicated that the burden of dealing with the repair of the 176 desecrated graves falls on the families, and some of those families may not be able to afford the repairs.  A restoration fund has been established. 

Some families may be able to pay for repairs or replacements through their homeowner insurance policies, Susskind said. Additionally, there is a donation page on the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati website. “We’re going to do our part to work with everybody so that we make sure everybody’s stones get back up,” Susskind said.

It’s a heartbreaking reality that I am forced to choose between my religious identity and protecting the well-being of those closest to me, but it is the reality in which we live.  The images of these destroyed graves have decidedly delayed my decision to make my own arrangements while I wait and watch to see if enough up-standers will come forward and fight with us to keep this country from descending into a hate-filled fascist state.  Unfortunately, I am not full of hope.

I wanted to be able to end this article with a solid positive statement like,  We must remember that our resilience as a community has always been stronger than any form of hate. We cannot let these incidents deter us from our identity and beliefs, but honestly, I’m not there.  I want to be, but I am not.  

It also doesn’t help that this incident occurred at a time when my own personal struggles with our Jewish policies of protecting rabbis over victims, particularly in the Reform Movement, are making me question the safety of our Jewish institutions from the inside.  If it isn’t safe outside and it isn’t safe inside, what now?

I want to be able to tell you that you are safe, inside and outside your small circle of Jewish friendsbut I can’t

I want to tell you that it is important to be strong in your Jewish Identitybut I can’t

I want to tell you that we can overcome thisbut I can’t

There is safety in numbers.  As a people, we cannot stand silently by and watch antisemites destroy our sense of safety.  Equally, we cannot watch silently as Jewish leaders inside our own community prioritize their own power over the safety of the less powerful.  Safety requires numbers, and we must all stand up together and, with one loud voice, speak out against the evil in this world, inside and outside of our community. 

The FBI have offered a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the vandalism.

About the Author
Julie has been working as a therapist with abuse and trauma victims for more than 25 years. She began her career working in the areas of child behavior, child abuse, and abuse investigations. She worked as a forensic interviewer and served as an expert witness in abuse and trauma. She trained CPS workers on forensic interviewing, investigation, and interviewing ethics. She brings a unique view to women's issues, victimization, trauma, and ethics. She has recently developed an interest in Jewish ethics. Her background in abuse issues, advocacy, ethics, and investigations work drives her pursuit for justice, fairness, and transparency in the world of Jewish ethics.
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