Hundreds of headstones vandalized at Philadelphia Jewish cemetery

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Monday, February 27, 2017
Hundreds of headstones vandalized at Jewish cemetery in Philly
A reward is being offered after scores of headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia.

WISSINOMING (WPVI) -- A reward is being offered after scores of headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia.

The Mizel Family Foundation, through the Anti-Defamation League, is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 is offering an additional $3,000.

Police say upwards of 100 headstones were damaged, though people helping with the cleanup say they've counted some 500 damaged headstones.

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Pictured: Damage at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery on the corner of Frankford and Cheltenham avenues in Philadelphia on Sunday, February 26.

Action News spoke with a local rabbi, who came out with a group of people of all faiths to restore the headstones and try to right the wrong.

"There are people from Quaker, Muslim, Jewish communities. Some rabbis, my colleagues, we just heard about this, thanks to your reporting, and came out here out of the desire to be in solidarity to show that we're not interested in any narrative about victimization and - as heartbreaking as this is - we are strong together.

"I just met two congregants of mine who were here, one whom has relatives. His way of responding was to go row by row and count, and he's counted over 500 tombstones," the rabbi said.

Police say this was an act of vandalism at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery on the corner of Frankford and Cheltenham avenues.

"I'm a child of a Holocaust survivor so I grew up with stories of destruction of Jewish cemeteries," said Rebecka Hess of West Philadelphia. "I always thought we were done with that."

It is the latest Jewish grave site to be targeted.

Hess and members of several local Jewish synagogues and nearby residents spent Sunday trying to put back dozens of intentionally overturned headstones.

Police say as many as 100 graves were vandalized, while those trying to clean up counted more than 500.

"It's a cowardly act for someone to come here to do this sort of thing in a cemetery," said Yosef Goldman, Temple Beth Zion Israel.

The attack comes days after authorities say a Tampa mosque was intentionally set on fire, and nearly a week after 154 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis were vandalized.

Tarek el-Messidi, is a Muslim activist and says when this happens to one, it happens to all.

"Every human should be allowed to rest in peace, and no one should have to worry about their loved one's graves being desecrated," said el-Messidi.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's office assured the public whoever is responsible "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," and added, "hate is not permissible in Philadelphia."

Still many are wondering why.

"I don't know what would lead somebody to do this," said Hess.

"It's other people's loved ones, and you don't do that," said Adina Newburg of Northwest Philadelphia.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon released a statement on Twitter saying, "#Philadelphia Jewish cemetery desecration is shocking and a source of worry . Full confidence #US authorities catch and punish culprits."

Pennsylvania lawmakers, including Mayor Kenney, Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, also released statements on Twitter.

"My heart breaks for the families who found loved ones' headstones toppled. We stand w/our Jewish brothers & sisters," said Kenney.

"The vandalism of Jewish headstones at a Phila. cemetery is a cowardly, disturbing act. We must find those responsible and hold accountable," said Wolf.

"This is a despicable act of vandalism- these acts of hate cannot be tolerated," said Casey.

Community members are advocating for better security at the cemetery.

It's unclear how much repairs will cost.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia tells Action News they will be opening a mailbox at to begin raising money to help speed up the repairs of the cemetery.

A GoFundMe page has been set up. To donate, CLICK HERE.

Read Mayor Kenney's statement in full blow:

"My heart breaks for the families who found their loved ones' headstones toppled this morning. We are doing all we can to find the perpetrators who desecrated this final resting place, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Hate is not permissible in Philadelphia. I encourage Philadelphians to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to show them that we are the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection."