David Penzell, director of operations at Waldheim Cemetery, reported that there have been no threats or acts of vandalism at the cemetery to date. He said the Forest Park Police Department is aware of anti-Semitic acts plaguing the Chicago area and have stepped up their patrols of the Jewish cemetery.
“The Forest Park Police have been wonderful,” Penzell said. “They’ve been very responsive.” The cemetery is also working with North Riverside police and the Broadview Police Department, as sections of the cemetery lie in their jurisdictions.
Still, the threat of vandalism has been worrisome for the cemetery’s clients.
“Members of our customer base have been calling up scared,” Penzell said. “They have their loved ones laid to rest here and they’re looking for reassurance. We tell them everything’s OK and our words and tonality reassures them.”
Many of the callers are elderly, and Penzell noted the perpetrators of hate crimes seek out the weakest segments of society.
“They go after children, the elderly and, in our case, the deceased. They don’t have respect, or tolerance, for others and commit these crimes to promote a cause.”
Penzell said there were thousands of hate crimes in the U.S. in 2015 but only 20 percent of them were religious in focus. However, there has been an increase in anti-Semitic acts in 2017 since the presidential election.
“The 24-hour news cycle feeds this type of behavior,” Penzell believes.
“Our main office has been in Forest Park since the late 1800s. This is our home. The cemetery isn’t going anywhere. Thankfully, our neighbors have been supportive.”