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Community demands answers on Cape cemetery vandalism

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TALI FEINBERG

“It’s those of us outside of Cape Town whose family tombstones are being robbed. Our community is all over the world, and we are relying on the Cemetery Maintenance Board (CMB) and the Beth Din to take the lead in sorting this out,” said a community member living outside of Cape Town, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He was referring to the SA Jewish Report’s recent investigation into a Jewish stonemason in Cape Town who has been taking old gravestones to be used on new graves. He was caught out after it became obvious that the base of an old gravestone had been used on a new one. Most of the vandalised graves belong to deceased people who no longer have family visiting them, so they were easy targets.

The community member said the silence from the CMB was deafening, and family members were not being notified about vandalised graves. He is calling for the authorities to crack down on such tampering, and to inform people if it has happened to their families’ graves, especially as community members contribute financially towards the upkeep of the cemetery.

Another community member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, recalled how ten years ago, she discovered that her mother’s gravestone was made up of old and possibly stolen parts stuck together. The stonemason never fixed it as she requested, and in the end, another community member assisted the family in organising a new headstone.

At the time, the Cape Beth Din asked that the family not pursue the matter as the stonemason in question was in dire financial straits, and not emotionally stable. However, the Cape Beth Din is now actively pursuing the matter, and is asking community members to come forward to lay formal complaints.

Meanwhile, to set up a stone in the cemetery, a stonemason needs a permit from the Cape Town City Council, which owns the land. “The council has assured us that it will no longer issue a permit to [this particular stonemason],” said a senior member of the community speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, CMB Director Eric Berger would not confirm this to the SA Jewish Report. He also refused to say what measures have been put in place to assure that tampering will not happen again.

“We have put in place measures that will hopefully alleviate any further similar occurrences. The CMB staff and security together with the city will continue to monitor and enforce wherever necessary,” said Berger.

“We do understand that it will take a while until we have all the new regulations running smoothly. We are also making sure that all work done by the party mentioned will be completed sorted out by the end of the month [August].”

Following the investigation by the SA Jewish Report, the stonemason is repairing some of the graves that were vandalised. This work was being closely monitored, said an anonymous senior member of the community, who wants the stonemason brought to book.

A businessman in the industry is considering employing this stonemason on a contractual basis, but has confirmed that he will be watched closely if he is to work in the cemetery. He said he sources his own materials, which means the stonemason would not work with stolen goods.

Stonemason and cantor Ian Camissar of Hebrew Monuments said he was angry to hear that “a fellow Jewish stonemason could vandalise and desecrate graves for his personal financial gain. A cemetery is a holy place. As a cantor and stonemason, I have the honour and privilege of manufacturing tombstones in respect of the deceased. I trust that this will never happen in the future, and our loved ones may rest in peace.”

  • The Cape Beth Din is asking all complainants to come forward. Please email the secretary at bethdin@uoscape.co.za

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