Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vandals Strike Again at Bayside Cemetery; Restoration Efforts Continue

Photo courtesy Bayside Cemetery Litigation
By Patricia Adams

Three teens were arrested last week in connection with the latest act of desecration at Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park. Andre Chowtie, 16, Michael Chaitram, 17, and Nicholas Kalloo, 19, were arrested after Police Officer David Marconi of the 106th Precinct observed them inside the fenced-in property after hours.

Marconi alerted the precinct of the activity inside the cemetery, leading to the arrests. Community Affairs Officer Kenneth Zorn said, “The perpetrators were arrested before they caused substantial damage to the property.” According to Zorn, the vandals told police they broke in because they “wanted to hang out in a scary place.”

The incident is one of many in a long history of vandalism at the cemetery. In 1993, the cemetery was vandalized twice within ten days. Vandals used black felt-tip pens to deface mausoleums, and another break-in resulted in damage to 50 headstones. In an incident in 2003, which was highly publicized, vandals broke in and desecrated 32 mausoleums. Crypts were destroyed, remains were removed from caskets and strewn on the ground and anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on gravestones and throughout the cemetery.

The cemetery is operated by the Congregation Shaare Zedek on Manhattan’s upper West Side, which acquired the land on Pitkin Avenue in 1842. The congregation has fallen under criticism for failing to maintain and provide perpetual care for the 35,000 Jews buried there. John Lucker, whose grandparents are buried at the cemetery, is currently suing Congregation Shaare Zedek for failing to maintain the property—Lucker’s grandparents had paid for perpetual care packages.

Efforts to clean up and restore the cemetery have been aided most recently by the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries (CAJAC), an organization funded by the UJA-Federation of New York. “CAJAC’s goals are to serve as a watchdog for Jewish cemeteries in the New York metropolitan area,” said Andy Schultz, the group’s executive director. More than 250 volunteers have participated in the CAJAC’s cleanups so far this year—and more than half of those volunteering are between 15 and 18 years old.

Avrim Cohen, who lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was on his way last week to visit relatives buried at the cemetery. “It’s always worrisome for me to come here,” Cohen told The Forum. “You never know what you will find.” He remembers the many desecrations he has seen over the years. “I must say that things have gotten better since people are helping to clean it up. I just hope it continues.”

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