Alleged Vandal of Chasidic Master's Tomb Arrested in Ukraine
Mar 11, 2008
Thaler discovered the damage to the building March 2. He found windows smashed and part of a wall missing. The structure houses the grave of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, one of the students of the Baal Shem Tov's successor, the Maggid of Mezrich. He was a contemporary of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
When Thaler returned the following day, the wall had been broken down completely and someone had scratched a swastika into the building's door. Police, along with Mayor Vasily Konstantinovich, visited the site March 4 and opened an investigation.
But again on Wednesday, Thaler, who directs the city's Jewish community with wife Chana Thaler, discovered that vandals had returned to the cemetery, spray-painting neo-Nazi grafitti and swastikas on the tomb, other graves and a Holocaust memorial at the cemetery's entrance. They apparently also broke the remaining windows of the Chasidic sage's tomb.
According to Thaler, police made the arrest that night, catching the 21-year-old leader of the vandals returning to the scene of the crimes.
For his part, Thaler called for a group of teenagers who follow the leader to fix the damage and ask for forgiveness "from the Jewish nation, from all the citizens of Berdichev."
"This was only the beginning of the group," said the rabbi. "They had many plans to do more damage."
Also last week, vandals struck the southern Poland tomb of another of the Maggid of Mezritch's students, Rabbi Elimelech of Lishensk. They covered the grave with swastikas, anti-Semitic slogans and a Star of David in a noose. And in Tomsk, Russia, youths threw stones at the windows of the Siberian city's synagogue.
Police are still investigating both incidents.
"We remain hopeful," said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Levi Kamenitzky, chief rabbi of Tomsk, "that they will do their best to find out whoever is responsible for such a cowardly act."