The House of Representatives has passed legislation that seeks to protect cemeteries abroad from vandalism and desecration. The Jewish community is applauding passage of the bill, which was introduced by Representative Grace Meng (D-NY). Action will now move to the Senate.
Specifically, the legislation would include “desecration of cemeteries” among the violations of religious liberty to which the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act apply. Under that law, such violations are to be taken into consideration by the U.S. Government when developing American foreign policy toward a country, and the President may take various steps, including punitive sanctions, against governments that deny exercise of religious freedom.
“While the legislation rightly applies to all cemeteries and to members of all faiths, it has a particular resonance within the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director. “It goes without saying that the pain and tragic reality of the continuing desecration – particularly in Eastern Europe, where cemeteries are the lone vestiges of a once vibrant, but now decimated, Jewish life – penetrates to the very core of the Jewish soul. In addition, these occurrences are stark reminders that the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a danger and a threat.”
For many decades, representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community – including the late revered Agudath Israel leaders Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Rabbi Chaskel Besser – have sought to encourage the U.S. government, and governments abroad, to take meaningful steps to protect these sacred places. Progress has been made but more needed to be done.
An outstanding leader on this issue, and in this legislative effort, has been Dr. Bernard Fryshman, a longtime Orthodox activist and Chairman of the Conference of Academicians for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries.
“We are confident that this provision will be an effective mechanism in helping to protect foreign cemeteries against vandalism and desecration, observed Rabbi Cohen. “Representative Meng deserves our heartfelt thanks.”