Mourners and officials react after anti-Semitic vandalism at Waukegan Jewish cemetery – NBC Chicago

Waukegan Police are investigating vandalism at the Am Echod Jewish Cemetery after more than two dozen headstones were desecrated over the weekend.

Police say swastikas were found spray-painted on 16 large headstones in red, and an additional 23 headstones were also defaced with “unspecific” spray-painted graffiti.

“The people whose headstones they desecrated were good people,” said Alan Friedlander, whose parents were buried at the cemetery.

While Friedlander says his parents’ headstones were not among those affected, he still felt sick upon learning of the incident.

“We have had [to deal with] a lot of that in our life,” Friedlander said. “The best revenge we get is to live.”

Ben Goldstein also has family buried in the cemetery. He says the images are hurtful and “sickening”.

“It’s awful. It’s sacred ground,” Goldstein said. “To see this symbol even now, with the way it’s been used and knowing so many people, the millions who have suffered and perished under it, and having it here in Waukegan Illinois? I’m still trying to figure it out.”

In a statement, Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor denounced the vandalism, saying she was “deeply disturbed and angered” by the anti-Semitic graffiti.

“…Hate has no place in Waukegan; when such incidents occur, our marginalized neighbors are victimized and our entire community suffers,” she said. “I hope our officers quickly locate the perpetrators of this despicable act and hold them accountable, and I offer my full support to those directly affected by this vandalism.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, who represents Waukegan in the 10th District, also called the act “despicable.”

“We will stand strong and continue to fight anti-Semitism wherever it arises,” he said.

Schneider launched a bipartisan task force on anti-Semitism in Congress in 2014.

“This is an issue that should alert us all, move us all to action, unified action saying that hate has no place, whether it’s in Waukegan or anyone in the United States,” did he declare.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracks anti-Semitic incidents. They have seen a 400% increase since 2016.

“Last year was the highest total number of incidents we tracked,” said David Goldenberg, ADL’s Midwest regional manager.

He and others worry that the frequency of attacks suggests the normalization of hatred.

“The more we see these incidents happening, the more impact they have on communities,” Goldenberg said. “It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time, we have to seek out those moments of hope. We have to realize that we have as much power as the individuals who express hate.”

ADL offers online resources for families to talk to children about hate incidents. They also have a section where they can be reported.

Goldenberg says words matter, especially in the wake of recent anti-Semitic comments from celebrities.

“People who have platforms should use those platforms to express themselves,” Goldenberg said. “When these people make these types of comments, they may be covering up for others that it’s okay to say these things. That’s how it normalizes.”

“Each of us has a voice,” he added. “Just as influential people can use their voice to encourage, embolden and empower enemies. We can also use our voice to encourage, embolden and empower those who want to speak out against hate.”

No arrests have been made as police continue to search for those responsible. Anyone with information is asked to call the Waukegan Police Department tip line at 847-360-9001.

NBC Chicago

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