Continuing Devastation and Disappointment on Har Hazeisim


har-hazeisimYerushalayim – Last month’s wanton destruction of 14  graves on Har Hazeisim,  more than half of them American citizens, left one American woman in shock and horror as she discovered her father’s tombstone in shambles. Israeli police arrested four minors, aged 15-16, for the horrific destruction, many of them split with sledgehammers, according to security officials. In a letter to the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim, Mrs. Renee Atlas Cohen shares her harrowing discovery:

“I have had the privilege of calling Jerusalem home since 2002. Before that, I lived in Chicago, a great city but one with far less spiritual significance. My father, Aron Zvi Atlas, a pious man originally from Poland and who immigrated to America after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, passed away in 1997 and is buried on Har Hazeisim. He was a very religious and learned figure in the local community and we were extraordinarily grateful that we were able to fulfill his wish of burying him in one of the oldest and most sacred Jewish cemeteries in the world.

“As is my custom, I make a trip up to Har Hazeisim every year on my father’s Yahrzeit to recite Kaddish by his grave. He is buried in what is referred to as the “Chelek Daled” or “Kolel Polen” section of the cemetery. This year, as I approached the grave, I saw laying on the ground a gravestone smashed into two pieces, with the last name “Atlas” on it. I was beside myself with shock, horror, and anger. How could this happen to my father’s grave? How could this happen in a Jewish State? Activity of this sort was commonplace in anti-Semitic Europe; and yet, today, in the modern state of Israel, a holocaust survivor has had his gravestone desecrated and destroyed!

“On my way back from the cemetery I noticed that several other graves has been destroyed in a similar manner, smashed in half and strewn about with complete disregard. How can something like this continue to occur on a near daily basis? How can the Israeli government sit by and allow for its citizens graves, and the graves of other Jews, to be mocked and destroyed? Where are the security forces? Cameras? Fences? Police? Where is the outrage?

“I’ve been told by journalists with whom I’ve spoken that this issue is old and on going. Promises to solve it go back years; yet, what I saw with my own eyes is that nothing is being done.  I truly don’t understand why burials are allowed on Har Hazeisim if we are not going to protect the burial sites. There is no protesting party to say that protection of the cemetery would infringe on any one’s rights. The land is ours for now and we are not only abdicating responsibility, I’m afraid we’re offering the graves of our ancestors to appease hoodlums.

“My father was from Poland and was a survivor of the Shoah.  My sisters and I have no other family graves; they were long since destroyed, if they ever existed. It is beyond shameful that the grave of my father, buried in the State of Israel, in a cemetery revered by many, should suffer a similar fate.”

{Yair Israel}


  1. ” Last month’s wanton destruction of 14 graves on Har Hazeisim, more than half of them American citizens,…”

    ow can graves be citizens? This is sloppy English and even more slapdash journalism.

  2. To #1: What a stupid comment. Instead of focusing your mind on the terrible desecration of Yiddishe graves, you’re busy with grammar.

    If ever your grave is desecrated, I hope it will be reported in grammatically correct English.

  3. Let me tell you a story that happened some 25 years ago, which I will never forget, that I sincerely hope will make an indelible impression on your mind and heart.

    I was schmoozing with some friends in our newly-formed bungalow colony one Motzaei Shabbos. Somehow,we got to talking about Kavod Hames, and the Halachic requirement of burial ASAP, preferably boi bayom, and about the prohibition against autopsies.

    Being a Ben Torah, I was shocked to the core when one of them flippantly said: “Once a person is dead, his body is meaningless. There is no difference to him what you do to his body.”

    I was shocked and horrified at this arrogant, self-formed, callous opinion, contrary to Halacha, to numerous sources in Chazal, and to our centuries-old traditions of Kavod Hames.

    I angrily told him: “You won’t be zoiche to a proper burial.”

    About two years later, he was on a business trip in some way-out city. He vanished without a trace. It took the cops a good week or so until they found his body on the side of a road. He probably was walking alongside the road, and got hit by a car.

    My friend, don’t be so sure.

  4. This issue of security and surveillance at Har Hazasim is not a simple issue. It is all about POLITICS.
    Us Americans see an internal problem, we raise the funds, get the committees in action, change the zoning and hire the contractors, workers and security guards.
    It does not work like that in Israel especially the parcel of land known as Har Hazesim. Unfortunately our sages, parents, rabbonim, leaders and multiples of others are buried in East Jerusalem, beyond the Green line, in post ’67 land, parts of Yehuda and Shomron and the government of Israel is not going to spend the shekels in repairing, securing this ‘questionable’ area. When the government, people (& religious leaders) have the strength to say, “Enough…this is our Biblical heritage, ours and not up for discussion”….then perhaps the needed effort will be put into securing Har Hazesim as it should be.

  5. You missed the whole point of the story. The point is that HIS OWN trivializing of Kavod Hames came back to haunt him. I doubt that my words to him did him in. I’m a plain ordinary Jew, and have as of yet not mastered the art of performing Moifsim.

    I just related the story as it happened, including my words to him.

    In any case, my so-called sense of self-importance does not diminish the lesson to be learned from the story, so your point is moot.