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Swastikas on Handi-transit parking sign

vandalized headstones at cemetery

Small Swastikas Found at Gwen Secter and Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery Vandalized Last Weekend

by Rhonda Spivak, May 15, 2014

On Monday May 12, 2014, it was discovered that two small swastika's and other graffiti had been penned on the handi-transit sign facing the parking lot of the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre building located at 1588 Main Street (see related photo).
Sophie Shinewald, age 101 ,who answered the phone at Gwen Secter, as well as Elaine Stern both told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the door to the back office of the Gwen Secter building also had a swastika on it.
"There was a small swastika and above it there was a drawing of a penis on the door to the back office of the building," Stern reported.
Marilyn Regiec, executive director of Gwen Secter said that the writing on the two locations both appeared to her to be from the same pen or marker and that she had notified the matter to the Winnipeg Police and as well to the Jewish Federation and B'nai Brith.
Maria Fernanda Medina, Community Program Director, Midwest Region, for B'nai Brith confirmed that because it involved a swastika the incident at Gwen Secter would be classified as an anti-Semitic incident for the purposes of the annual audit conducted by B'nai Brith.
Regiec indicated that she had not notified any media, including the Jewish media, of the swastikas at Gwen Secter, and she thought this incident had occurred "probably over the weekend".
This past weekend, (which is when the incident at Gwen Secter occurred) would appear to be the same weekend that approximately 20-25 headstones were overturned at the Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery north of Garden City.
The Winnipeg Jewish Review asked Constable Eric Hofley of the Winnipeg Police Public Information Office if the incident at Gwen Secter could possibly be related to vandalism at the cemetery, but Hofley was not aware of the Gwen Secter incident as he was off duty for the previous couple days.

The Winnipeg Jewish Review therefore does not know whether the swastikas at the two locations at Gwen Secter will be characterized by the police as anti-Semitic or not. 

In regard to vandalism at the cemetery, Hofley noted that at this point there "is no indication'' that the incident at the cemetery was "a hate crime." 
"There were no swastikas, no slurs, no spray painting," he said.

According to Hofley the vandalism occurred at the cemetery located on McPhillips Street just north of Swailes Avenue between  Friday afternoon, May 9th and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Jonathan Buchwald, executive director of Etz Chayim Synagogue, which oversees the cemetery, said that the cemetery "gates are locked over Shabbat and not re-opened until Sunday morning " but he said "there are still ways to get in."
According to Buchwald, when the synagogue filed a police report, police said they would investigate and notified Buchwald that the incident would be referred to in the daily media update, which is how it received the attention of the general press. Etz Chaim Synagogue did not notify any media directly. 
Buchwald said that the synagogue first learned of the vandalism since Sunday (May 10) was Mother's Day and naturally there were family members who went out on Mother's Day to visit the cemetery."
He added that the synagogue was in the process of notifying the affected families and the damage appeared to be confined to two rows in a couple of sections.
According to Hofley, the police have estimated that the damage and cost to right the headstones is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000.
"We estimated 2000-3000 dollars per headstone", he said noting that the figure accounts for the labour to place them upright again, as well as some headstones "not being "salvagable."

Hofley also said he thought it would be fairly simple to knock over head stones, such that it could have been done by one person.

In Buchwald's estimation, "most of the headstones will be salvageable" and "in terms of actual damage it’s mostly lifting the headstones back onto their bases."
Buchwald wasn't able to say definitively when the stones would be set back in place, since "we won't do anything until the police have completed their investigation."
Hofley said at this time the police have "no leads" and "no suspects" regarding who is responsible for the cemetery vandalism.
"We're hoping someone will come forward and give us a tip," he added.  

Hofley indicated that there were no other cemeteries vandalized last weekend.
Buchwald said that to the best of his knowledge  the last time there was vandalism  at the Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery was a high profile case some  10-12 years ago which lead to a culprit being "charged and caught"

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call Winnipeg Police Service investigators at 204-986-2848  or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.