$69,000 reward for suspects in Philadelphia Jewish cemetery vandalism

Sarah Bloomquist Image
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Volunteers continue to repair damage at Jewish cemetery
Volunteers are coming together to undo the damage by vandals at a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery.

WISSINOMING (WPVI) -- A reward from various donors adding up to $69,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia police announced the reward Tuesday night. The money comes from a variety of donors:

The Mizel Family Foundation, through the Anti-Defamation League, is offering a $10,000 reward.

An anonymous donor is offering a $10,000 reward.

Councilman Allan Domb is offering a $12,000 reward.

Mayor Jim Kenney's Office is offering a $15,000 reward.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 is offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to an arrest "only."

By late Tuesday night, 15th District PDAC added another $1,000.

On Wednesday afternoon, Action News learned Mr. Ronald Firman of Miami, Florida, and Mr. Martin Burns of Las Vegas, Nevada, are offering $18,000 to bring the total to $69,000.

So many people came out Tuesday and Wednesday to help clean up the cemetery that was vandalized over the weekend, organizers are staggering volunteers in shifts.

They've been coming out to the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia, where dozens of headstones were found to be knocked over or heavily damaged over the weekend.

Action News was there on Tuesday afternoon as a group of volunteers began their work.

"It's important for us to say, when this does happen here, we will respond. We won't just stand idly by. We will do something about it," said Rabbi Yoni Spinka of Bala Cynwyd.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is trying to steer the well-intentioned in the right direction.

"Every day, today, Wednesday, Thursday, hopefully Sunday, we will organize - between noon and four - cleanups every hour, 50 slots an hour," said Steven Rosenberg, the federation's CFO.

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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.

Christina Torres saw the story on the news and brought her son to help in any way they could.

"I really feel that, where there is so much hate, we need to show how much love there is and people getting together and uniting is love," she said. "That's love."

Police say the investigation into the destruction is still ongoing. That includes determining whether this is a hate crime targeting the Jewish religion, or if the cemetery was targeted at random.

Three other non-Jewish cemeteries at the intersection of Frankord and Cheltenham were untouched.

"We have increased patrols in the area. We have put some proactive measures in place for extra lighting, some cameras and we are checking the area for any video that might show the offenders leaving the location," said Capt. Anthony Luca.

The Building Trades Council and the Electrical Workers Union are offering to help repair damage and install security cameras.

GoFundMe pages to cover damages have surpassed the initial goal.

The Jewish Federation wants to make sure restoration efforts are organized and they don't want to harm the cemetery in the delicate state that it's in.

"We don't want anyone to get hurt, we want it to be done right," said Rosenberg. "This is an unbelievable effort that has to be done and we want it done in an organized fashion."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia opened a mailbox at jewishphilly.org to raise money to help speed up the repairs of the cemetery.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up.