In a Desecrated Cemetery, History Finally Caught Up With Our Family
Jewish graveyards were often violated in the Eastern European villages our grandparents left. Now it's happened in our suburban hometown.
Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery sits at a busy intersection, a few blocks from the drive-up window where we ordered our first McDonald’s hamburger, close to the high school where one of us edited the school newspaper. Outside the graveyard’s iron fence, ordinary life carries on: gas stations, grocery stores. Inside stand the markers of those family members who have come—and gone—before us. Uncle Nat. Aunt Anna. Safe, sturdy evidence, even in University City, where nothing ever happens, of that upward historical narrative that we learned in school.
Yet a little more than a week ago, this average Midwestern corner presented a scene our ancestors had managed to avoid when they emigrated from the towns and cities of their native Ukraine: toppled headstones. The graves of four great-grandparents, of a dozen or more great-uncles and aunts, stand amid the nearly two hundred upturned stones. Around them lie the remains of others like them—men and women, born in Central and Eastern Europe, who escaped to a place of tolerance and safety. People who lived long enough to see their children and grandchildren buy houses, work with their brains instead of their hands, take trips to “see history,” not to escape it. People, no doubt, like those buried in Philadelphia’s Mt. Carmel Cemetery, which was vandalized some days later.