Police investigating damage to Jewish cemetery benches

Courtesy photoOne of two benches that were found smashed inside a Jewish cemetery in Peabody last week.

PEABODY — Police are investigating damage to two memorial benches inside Peabody's Lebanon Tifereth Israel Cemetery that occurred in recent weeks. 

Two memorial benches were smashed, possibly with a sledgehammer or other heavy object, inside the Jewish cemetery off Route 128, Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto said on Tuesday. 

Police do not know the motive at this point, said Bonaiuto. 

A caretaker first noticed damage to one bench on the afternoon of Sept. 12 while putting up flags, but initially thought someone had accidentally hit it with a car and did not call, Bonaiuto said. 

Then, on Sept. 17, the caretaker noticed the second bench broken. 

The benches were placed in tribute by members of two families whose loved ones are buried in the cemetery. They have been notified about the damage. 

David McKenna, who runs the company that manages that cemetery and a large number of other Jewish cemeteries on the North Shore, said he'd hate to think anyone specifically targeted the cemetery. 

"I hate to think it, but it is possible it's anti-Semitism," said McKenna, a former Danvers Select Board member who was involved in starting that town's Human Rights and Inclusion Committee in the 1990s. 

However, he also believes it is possible that the person responsible was just someone who wanted to break something and targeted the benches because they were the most costly-looking ones in the cemetery.

"God knows what was going on in someone's mind to do that," said McKenna. 

He estimates that the vandalism caused at least $1,500 in damage to the benches. 

"I don't know if they're repairable," he said. 

The damage appeared to him to have possibly occurred on two separate dates. 

To him, regardless of the motivation, the destruction is pointless. "Why just destroy something that belongs to someone else?" said McKenna. 

Bonaiuto said anyone with information about the vandalism should contact Peabody police.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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