In the first week of November, I walked through Richmond’s Hebrew Cemetery to take some photographs of the area for study. The site and those around it continue to fascinate, and one student in my undergraduate classes this semester is pursuing a research project related to the cemetery.
But only a few steps inside the gate, I was shocked to discover a scene of wreckage throughout the grounds. Nearly two dozen rare surviving gravestones from the mid-1800s had been shattered, split, or knocked off their bases. These stones, such as that for Henry Wolf in 1875, were originally commissioned with difficulty, given the desire to have Hebrew language inscriptions above English language inscriptions. The damage to these historic artifacts — and to the memories of these lives — is devastating. It was all the more shocking since the rest of the cemetery appeared in good order. The grass was trimmed, and the sidewalks quiet.
When I reached out to the cemetery’s managers, they told me that they were aware of the damage and had already contracted with a stone conservator to begin the process of repair. Their response illustrates the care directed toward the site by the Hebrew Cemetery Company and Congregation Beth Ahabah. Their troubles have been compounded, as a car recently smashed through the brick wall surrounding the southern extension of Hebrew Cemetery across Hospital Street along Fourth Street, requiring a number of gravestone repairs there as well.
Vandalism at one of the city’s cemeteries is vandalism to them all.