The dawning of spring revealed an unpleasant reality at the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob cemetery in McKees Rocks — about 30 headstones were toppled by both weather and vandalism during the winter.
Cemetery groundskeeper Bob McKivitz discovered the damaged stones last week.
McKivitz said he believed kids vandalized some of the headstones, but many older ones — several dating back to the 19th century — simply crumbled under this winter’s harsh weather.
Urbach Memorials, which works with the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation but does not regularly manage the cemetery, volunteered a day of manpower to help repair the damaged stones, with four workers and a truck-mounted crane lifting the stones back onto their foundations.
John Dioguardi, who’s Rome Monuments owns Urbach Memorials, said he offered the labor quickly and for free to send a message to whoever may have vandalized the site.
“When news gets out that the stones you knocked over are standing up again, it sends a message to the community: ‘What are you gaining here? You had a nice little prank, but it won’t last. And we fixed it for free, so you didn’t cost anybody any money,’ ” said Dioguardi, who brought in his workers after surveying the site himself.
McKivitz said he called the McKees Rocks police about the damage, but doubts any headway will be made in finding a culprit. McKivitz was certain that some of the stones were knocked over by vandals because several windows were broken in a building bordering the cemetery — smashed with rocks that must’ve been thrown from inside the cemetery gates.
“There was no way to find out who did it for lack of a witness or any cameras; you can’t get fingerprints from stone,” said McKees Rocks Officer Phil Quattrone. “You can only surmise who did it — drunk kids, homeless people. That’s about where I’m at. The report was written up as unknown actors.”
Though working outside in the spring weather was pleasant, Billy Hapach was disappointed that vandalism was what got him in the sun.
“It’s just rude. You don’t mess with the dead,” said Hapach after his crew realigned its 8th gravestone of the morning. “If these kids realized how heavy and dangerous these things are, maybe they’d have more respect.”
With some stones weighing about 500 pounds, the cemetery’s crowded gravesites and hilly landscape made for extremely difficult work. Stones on the steepest areas of the cemetery were impossible to fix with the crane and had to be reset by hand.
“We saw the name of the cemetery and just said ‘Oh no,’ ” said Rome worker Bill Morgan. “It’s excruciating.”
Still, all four men lifting graves agreed that theirs was important work.
“I think today, I ask anyone who reads this to see if they know who might’ve done it,” said Dioguardi. “Even if you don’t want to turn them to the authorities, talk to them. I’d like to see the community involved.”
For Beth Hamedrash Hagadol-Beth Jacob President Ira Frank, the damage to Jewish gravesites was a reminder of October 2001, when approximately 90 stones were knocked over and several small flags were burned in the cemetery.
“We don’t know if it was willful violence or just a harsh winter,” said Frank. “But if someone did do it, it’s disgusting.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)