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Saturday, October 10, 2015

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Rabbi reaches out to cemetery vandals

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VICTORIA — After five graves were vandalized with swastikas at Victoria’s 150-year-old Emanu-El Jewish cemetery on New Year’s Eve, Rabbi Harry Brechner felt compelled to respond with a letter directed to the vandal.

“I know that the vast majority of people living in Victoria… find this kind of act repulsive and cowardly,” the spiritual leader of the historic Congregation Emanu-El wrote in a letter published in local media outlets, including the Victoria Times-Colonist. “Acts of hate have no place in our community.”

Rabbi Brechner invited the culprit to “take ownership and responsibility” for his or her actions and “make things right.”

“Come clean the grave sites, and when you are through take a tour with me around the cemetery and meet some of the people buried there who defied Nazism. People who lived, worked towards positive change and loved after losing all they held dear in the Holocaust. Come meet the people who lived their lives after the Holocaust as the antithesis of your swastika.”

Rabbi Brechner told The CJN that he “never really expected anyone to come forward, but we’ve had enormous support from the community.”

He said he’s been contacted by local MPs and MLAs, as well as the mayor, city councillors and just about every faith leader in the area.

“People have stopped me in the streets,” he said. “One man brought pickles, chocolates and kosher wine to the synagogue to comfort the community, while another offered us a log cabin in the mountains as a retreat if anyone feels the need to use it.”

Six days after the vandalism was discovered, the graves had been cleaned, and minor repairs were slated to be completed this week. Rabbi Brechner said he hoped that a vigil at the cemetery scheduled for Jan. 8 would give community members a sense of closure. “There was a sense that people needed to gather out of respect and solidarity,” he said.

“For me, it’s so important that the children in the community who are old enough and aware enough will come to the vigil and see that the person who did this is outside the [norm] and not part of the community of Victoria. I want them to be reassured about the security of the Victoria’s Jewish community.”

Victoria police are treating the incident as a hate crime but were unable to comment by The CJN’s deadline.

The last act of antisemitic vandalism in Victoria occurred in May 2010, when vandals painted graffiti in Victoria’s Clawthorpe Park and defaced a wall facing the parking lot at the Victoria Jewish Community Centre.

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