UMSL students join in cleanup efforts at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery

by | Feb 23, 2017

They joined hundreds of volunteers from around St. Louis in a show of support after an act of vandalism that has attracted national headlines.
From left, Cassie Filip, Jacob Duren, Jeanne Safron, Alex Zvibleman, Catherine Lauk, Esty Munk and Yaniv Dudaie

From left, Cassie Filip, Jacob Duren, Jeanne Safron, Alex Zvibleman, Catherine Lauk, Esty Munk and Yaniv Dudaie pose for a photo after joining cleanup efforts Wednesday afternoon at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. The historic Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri, was desecrated over the weekend in an act of vandalism that has attracted national headlines. (Photo courtesy of Esty Munk)

Jeanne Safron could hardly believe the amount of community support on display Wednesday afternoon at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, the historic Jewish cemetery desecrated over the weekend in University City, Missouri.

She first got a sense of the scope when she was still driving there to join a group of other University of Missouri–St. Louis students who participated in the cleanup efforts organized by Gov. Eric Greitens.

“My friend was like, ‘There’s police cars everywhere. What’s going on?’” said Safron, who’d been anticipating no more than about 20 people taking part.

Instead, they found volunteers numbering in the hundreds. The gathering, which also attracted an appearance from Vice President Mike Pence, was large enough that it took the UMSL students about 20 minutes just to get inside the gates.

The volunteers spanned many different faith groups and included students from several area colleges.

“It was truly amazing,” said Safron, a junior studying international business. “It was really nice to see it out there in my own community and get the warmth and love that really needs to be spread more around.”

The governor’s office began coordinating the cleanup effort on Tuesday.

Rabbi Hershey Novack reached out to Esty Munk to see if she could gather a group of UMSL students to pitch in. Munk organizes programs for UMSL students for Chabad on Campus.

At around 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, Munk began emailing and text-messaging members of UMSL’s Jewish Student Association to see if any were available to help and stressed the importance of the occasion. Within minutes, she already had a half-dozen volunteers.

Safron was one of the first to reply.

“I have family buried there. I am part of that community,” Safron said. “It just felt right to help out, and I had also reached out to some of my fraternity brothers of Delta Sigma Pi to see if they would help us out.”

“Some came instead of going to class or notified work that they’d come late,” Munk said. “They all came with their UMSL shirts – their Hebrew shirts – and decided that this was really important to put everything else aside for.”

Heavy machinery was required to lift up most of the tombstones that were knocked over in an act of vandalism that attracted national headlines. But volunteers helped clean up other parts of the cemetery.

The group from UMSL worked in the southeast corner – raking leaves, gathering trash and wiping off gravestones with soap and water.

Munk said that in a little over an hour, they managed to fill four large trash bags.

At around 4:30 p.m., people on hand gathered for an interfaith service.

Novack said it was important to have students involved.

“The profound symbolism of young people helping repair damage at a cemetery,” he said, “offers an inspiring symbol of hope for the future.”

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik