Story by Lourice Angie
It has been nearly two years since the Temple Beth Shalom Cemetery, located about a mile south of the Village of Florida at the intersection of Spanktown Rd. and Union Corners Rd., was desecrated just two days before Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The vandalism left members of the Jewish community, as well as the entire community, shaken.
The hateful act, a horrible and painful reminder of the hate and prejudice that still exist in the world, brought out in the local community an overwhelming amount of love and support from people in many walks of life, proving that hate will not be tolerated here, regardless of a person’s background or religious preference.
Through the support and generosity of several anonymous community donors and through the efforts of the greater Florida and Warwick community, Beth Shalom was able to erase the graffiti, rebuild and ultimately replace the defaced stone walls, and secure better lighting on the cemetery grounds.
Members of the Temple Beth Shalom congregation gathered on Sun., Jun. 24 for a ceremony to rededicate the cemetery. They were joined by local elected officials, community leaders, members of the Warwick and State Police Departments, and community members. The ceremony allowed for everyone to honor and remember the loved ones who are buried on sacred grounds.
Michael Melasky, who co-chairs Temple Beth Shalom’s Cemetery Committee, spoke about the importance of combating evil and hatred. He stressed the importance of getting the message across to teens and adults, explaining that when people witnesses hatred they must speak out against it because silence is not an option. During the ceremony, the weather abruptly changed from warm and clear to a downpour of rain for about a minute or two, but then cleared up again to sunlight and blue skies.
“Never back down or cower when confronted with such evil or when dealing with significant peer pressure, but instead figure out a way to navigate this world,” said Melasky.
He continued by giving special thanks on behalf of Temple Beth Shalom to the long list of people and groups who helped empower and enable their quest to positively deal with the occurrence. Melasky concluded his speech with a quote from the famous poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou who said, “Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
Melasky closed saying, “If we could only see the meaning in these words and live by them, our lives would be sustained by peace.
“I often say to people here when we bury their loved ones, when it rains on a funeral it is as though God is crying. I believe we just experienced that,” said Rabbi Rebecca Shinder of Temple Beth Shalom.
The ceremony continued with praise, prayer, and song. Rabbi Shinder said that it was a customary practice to place a stone as a marker of a cemetery visit. She thanked Gerald Warner for providing the stones. Shinder then invited everyone to place a stone on either side of the wall, beginning with the families who had loved ones buried at the cemetery. This injunction asked that God let peace descend upon all of humanity. One by one each person placed a stone while the crowd joined in the Jewish prayer for peace, Oseh Shalom, meaning The One Who Makes Peace. Beth Shalom Temple President Jon Gottlieb then invited each of the past presidents to come forward and finalize the rededication ceremony.
“Together we gather for a common purpose, to rededicate this cemetery, to make whole what had been broken, to join as one community of people to say together that hate is not welcome here. For those who came before us we honor their memory. For those who follow us, we lead the way. L’dor va’dor (from generation to generation),” said Gottlieb.
Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton shared these words: “Nineteen months ago our community was shocked to see that these very strong symbols of hate were being brought out again in the midst of our community and that was a sad day, but I thought it was almost a miracle how the community came together and rallied, first to get rid of the graffiti, but then to embark on this new wall. I believe that this new wall will be a reminder that we must always be vigilant to look for signs of hate and snuff them out, but also serve as an inspiration to us and show that our community is truly united and stays together.”
Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard described the ceremony as emotional saying, “I think that the words of Rabbi Shinder still echo and stay with us – that hate has no place here. Those are words that we can live by and if we ever want to remove hate from our vocabulary, those are the words we need to remember.”
“It’s great to see the community coming out to make a statement that regardless of our faith or beliefs, as a community we’re not going to tolerate any acts of hate,” said Orange County Legislator Paul Ruszkiewicz.
Following the rededication ceremony, everyone was invited to join the congregation for a meal of fellowship, sponsored by Temple Beth Shalom at the temple social hall, located at 13 Roosevelt Ave. in Florida.
For more information or to make a donation visit www.tbsny.org.