Teens in custody in tombstone toppling

January 6, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Four teenagers have been arrested over vandalism incidents at a Jewish cemetery, authorities said Thursday, but the attacks do not appear to be bias crimes.About 500 headstones at the Poile Zedek Cemetery, which dates to at least the 1920s, were toppled or broken apart the evening of Jan. 4, including a section of more than 200 tombstones from the nearby Etz Ahaim Congregation. Three nights earlier, about 20 headstones were damaged.

On Wednesday night, authorities arrested four New Brunswick teenage boys, charging three in both incidents and the fourth with participating only in the Jan. 4 incident.

"The facts as presently known do not indicate that the damage caused was an attempt to intimidate, target or harm the Jewish community," Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan and New Brunswick Police Deputy Director Anthony Caputo said in a statement Thursday.

The four, including a 15-year-old, two 16-year olds and a 17-year-old, were charged with juvenile delinquency for acts equivalent to the adult crimes of desecration of venerated objects, criminal mischief and conspiracy. All four were sent to the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention facility, authorities said.

Rabbi Abraham Mykoff of the Poile Zedek Congregation said about three-quarters of all the tombstones in the cemetery had been damaged, but none had been defaced with swastikas or other anti-Semitic signs. Some of the monuments weighed as much as 3,000 pounds, he said.

"It was done methodically, row by row and section by section," he said. "It took hours."

Mykoff said the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County is setting up a restoration fund to help cover costs of repairing or replacing damaged headstones.