LYNN — It had been 30 days since Natasha Soolkin buried her mother-in-law at Pride of Lynn Cemetery, a serene spot that is the final resting place for generations of Jewish families.
The ground was still soft from Tuesday’s early evening rain. Soolkin and her daughter, Liz, 22, arrived at the cemetery around 7 p.m. to pray, and then return home for a family dinner to mark the end of their mourning period.
As the pair walked away from the grave, they came upon a stunning sight.
Five thick pieces of raw pork had been laid on the stone base of the Holocaust memorial, an obelisk that stands amid the 3,000 graves.
Police said they are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime, and religious leaders are planning an interfaith peace rally at the site at 10 a.m. Friday.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Soolkin, 50, who lives in Swampscott, recalled on Thursday afternoon. “My daughter said, ‘No, Mom. This is not happening.’ ”
Pork is not a kosher food, and its placement at the base of a Holocaust memorial is offensive to Jews.
“We will simply not tolerate hatred in our community,” said Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of the Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, who is organizing the rally, in a statement. “I think it’s important for people to stand together and make a very clear message about that.”
The vandalism drew a swift rebuke from the state’s Jewish leaders.
“This act of hate on a community burial ground and Holocaust Memorial is appalling,” Robert Trestan, the New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement issued Thursday.
The ADL announced a $1,500 reward to anyone who can provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those found responsible for the vandalism, the statement said.
“It’s a message of hate,” said Ronald F. Newburg, the secretary/treasurer and managing officer of the 95-year-old cemetery. “Somebody obviously intended to desecrate sacred ground there.”
Lieutenant Rick Donnelly, spokesman for the Lynn police, said the department is investigating.
“This is being investigated as a hate crime,” said Donnelly, who visited the scene while on patrol Thursday afternoon.
Soolkin said she spotted the pork pieces on the back side of the obelisk, which was dedicated in 1948 to the “victims of Nazi atrocities . . . who did not find their final resting place.”
She said she immediately called Lynn police. She also called Lipsker, her rabbi.
“I was just so stunned that they could do this, especially in such a painful spot,” Soolkin said.
As word of the desecration spread, people who visited the cemetery to check on their loved one’s graves expressed outrage.
Janet Tkachenko, 76, of Swampscott checked on the graves of her husband and mother Thursday.
“My mother’s grave is right near the monument,” Tkachenko said by phone after her visit. “I was worried, but it was OK. . . . What can you say about people who do this? I think that people are crazy.’”
“It’s just hatred,” said Millie Naseck Madoff of Lynnfield, whose parents, grandparents, and other extended family are buried at the cemetery. “When I heard about it, all I could think of is about all the people who are buried here.”
The cemetery, located near the Peabody line, has not had any vandalism of this level in at least a decade, Newburg said.
“Once in a while, we get some nasty graffiti,” he said. “But nothing ever like this.”
The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts — which operates a cemetery adjacent to Pride of Lynn — said that cemetery was not vandalized.
“But we feel for our neighbor,” said Stan Kaplan, executive director of the Newton-based nonprofit that oversees 115 Jewish cemeteries across the state. “What these vandals did was a heinous crime.”