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Jewish Cemetery Update (March 2016)

11/03/2016 10:21:14 AM


Dan Zweig is a member of Congregation B'nai Jacob and Temple Achduth Vesholom and is President of the Fort Wayne Jewish Cemetery Association.  His ongoing service to the Jewish community in these roles is greatly appreciated, as is the following cemetery update provided by Dan.  - Rabbi Kornspan


It’s hard to describe what went through my mind looking at the widespread vandalism discovered on February 1 at the Fort Wayne Jewish Cemetery. Sixty monuments and headstones knocked off their bases, damage scattered throughout the grounds, and police officers already looking for clues to determine who would do such a thing – it was a lot to digest. Frankly, I mostly was dreading what the investigators might find.

In my 25 years as president of the Fort Wayne Jewish Cemetery Association, I’ve never had to contend with vandalism nor envisioned anything like this. One headstone was broken into pieces, having fallen against nearby stones. Other monuments were laying haphazardly; some face down so it was unclear at first whose life was memorialized there.

My wife, Beth, saw that markers for cousins on both sides of my father’s family were down. We noticed other familiar names, including those who had contributed much to our Jewish and Fort Wayne community over the years, as well as many others whom neither of us had known.  

While the crime scene investigators worked meticulously, we discussed next steps: Contacting families directly impacted (if we could find them), determining how best to restore the markers, how the cost would be covered, what security measures were needed, and, once order was restored, how eventually to bring the community together for a rededication of the cemetery. In short order, we had a long list of items to tackle for a cemetery that is run by a small number of volunteers.  

With the help of Dan Bradley and Jacob Current, who discovered the vandalism upon arriving to do landscaping work, we began to make a list of toppled stones. Police investigators found shoe prints on a marker that remained upright and theorize that vandals kicked stones throughout the cemetery to see what would fall. We answered questions about the Hebrew on the markers and why some gravestones had pebbles on top. Officers did not find graffiti or symbols and, after going through the whole cemetery, concluded that the vandalism didn’t appear to be targeted at Jews.

The past few weeks have been very challenging. People with loved ones buried at the cemetery reached out from all over the country and abroad to inquire. I also heard from an Eagle Scout, church groups, the local Muslim community, organizations that fight against anti-Semitism, Jews and non-Jews, all wondering how they could help.

We still haven’t located family for some of those whose stones were impacted, perhaps because they didn’t have children or relatives moved away long ago. In addition to asking long-time and long ago people in the Jewish community, we’ve started to search online genealogy records and yahrzeit lists for clues. Josh Tourkow and Mike Dicker have been assisting in gathering quotes for repairs and improved security, while Janet Finkel has been assisting in finding family members.

We greatly appreciate the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne for the tremendous support, including creating a way for the Jewish Cemetery to accept donations from those who have asked to help financially. The gifts we receive will be used for repairing damaged gravestones, improving security to deter future events, and to help assure a safe and sound future. (To make a donation, write a check to the JFFW and indicate your gift is for the Jewish Cemetery.) With help from the Federation staff, we are now working with Crime Stoppers to offer a reward with monies that were given by two Jewish donors.

We are grateful to Congregation Achduth Vesholom and Congregation B’nai Jacob, their rabbis, staff, boards and members, for their interest and help. We, too, are glad to be part of the Rifkin Campus at 5200.

The sense of community that has enveloped us is truly amazing. Please continue to support all the Jewish organizations in our area. Don’t take for granted that they’ll always be here without your assistance. Despite the terrible nature of the vandalism, it’s heartening to know that so many stand with us as we repair the damage and restore the sacred ground where Jews have rested since 1912.

Dan Zweig, President

Fort Wayne Jewish Cemetery Association



Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782