Central Florida Jewish centers, synagogues, cemeteries, schools concerned

Security measures increased after increase in threats

Julian Meitin pointed to five headstones all in the same row at Temple Israel Jewish cemetery in Gotha.

"My grandparents, uncles, aunts, brother, brother-in-law are all buried here," Meitin said.

Meitin, the vice president of Temple Israel Cemetery Corp., said his family founded the cemetery more than a half century ago.

He was sickened by the desecration at a second Jewish cemetery in less than a week.

"It concerns me greatly, the trend towards desecration," said Meitin. "I view no difference between Jewish cemeteries or others, we all have sacred grounds. This is where we all intend to be one of these years."

So far, Temple Israel has only been affected by thefts. That's why it installed cameras. Temple Israel also has the benefit of a groundskeeper who lives on cemetery grounds.

"We do our best to keep the cemetery safe," said Meitin. "We have cameras, an on-site caretaker who lives in the house behind you, we have a major middle school next door. But we have had an occasional incident with people stealing bronze head stones, and the general trend nationally disturbs me greatly."

Police in Philadelphia said that as many as 100 tombstones were damaged and overturned over the weekend at Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery.

Last week, a similar incident occurred at a St. Louis Jewish cemetery.

This morning, a Jewish community center in South Florida was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Sixty-nine bomb threats have been made to Jewish centers across North America, including the JCC in Maitland, since the beginning of the year, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Meitin said last week that leaders at local Jewish cemeteries, schools, synagogues, centers and parents whose children attend the facilities met to discuss the growing violence and resulting fear.

"I understand a number of parents dropped out," said Meitin. "I'm sorry to hear of their fears, but it has a budgetary impact on the community, big time."

The JCC said in a letter to members that the bomb threats and resulting evacuations have impacted the Jewish community and cost them financially.

The JCC is holding a 24-hour online fundraiser on Wednesday March 8. Every dollar donated will be matched and quadrupled.

You can donate here.

"In general, we've been rather safe here for a number of years," said Meitin. "To me, personally, it's very worrisome because there are other organizations - temples, Jewish community centers, that have hits as far as anti-Semitism is concerned."

"The recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St.Louis and Philadelphia were clearly acts of antisemitism and hate," said Pam Kancher, executive director of the Holocaust Center in Maitland. "It is increasingly distressing that factions in our society believe that desecrating a Jewish cemetery, or any sacred ground, is acceptable behavior. What is it going to take for all Americans everywhere to stand up and affirm that any act of prejudice, hate and bigotry is not acceptable? It is the responsibility of all of us to protect the rights of others as fervently as we protect our own. We must work together to ensure that everyone feels safe and respected."

Orange County Sheriff's Deputies met with one cemetery leader Monday afternoon.

"Our patrol division will be adding extra patrols in the areas affected," said public information officer Rose Silva, of the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "Our Crime Prevention Unit has also been made aware so they can provide the proper follow-up with the cemeteries."

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