Philadelphia Jewish Community Organizes Volunteers to Clean-Up Vandalized Cemetery

Volunteers clean-up after vandals topple headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery

The reward continues to increase for information leading to the arrest of the vandals who desecrated a Northeast Philadelphia Jewish cemetery.

Police announced Tuesday the reward has increased to $69,000. Through the support of the Mizel Family Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League is offering a $10,000 reward, an anonymous donor is offering $10,000, Councilman Allan Domb is offering $12,000, Mayor Kenney's Office is offering $15,000, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 is offering $3,000, the 15th District Police Department Advisory Council is offering a $1,000 reward and Ronald Firman of Miami, Florida and Martin Burns of Las Vegas, Nevada are offering a total of $18,000.

As the investigation continues, the Philadelphia Jewish community organized to clean-up the area around toppled headstones ahead of a community event at Independence Mall later in the week.

Police responded to a report of vandalism at Mount Carmel Cemetery on Sunday at 9:40 a.m. When they arrived, they were met by a man who told them three headstones belonging to his relatives were knocked over and damaged, authorities said.

Police told NBC10 at least 100 more headstones were knocked over. A rabbi who walked through the cemetery told NBC10 he counted 460 headstones that were toppled or damaged. [[414953713, C]]

"This is not just a random act," said Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom. "To topple so many headstones clearly is a concerted effort with intent."

The Jewish Federation of Philadelphia has seen an overwhelming response from people of all backgrounds and faiths looking to help. Scores of volunteers – capped at 50 at a time -- helped in an organized effort to clean up and restore the Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section. The federation doesn't, however, want volunteers to upright headstones due to the weight. [[414996273, C]]

The organized repair work -- including raking, flower planting and sprucing up the grounds -- began Tuesday afternoon and will continue Wednesday afternoon, the federation said. Volunteers of all faiths began showing up at the cemetery starting Sunday after news of the vandalism spread. A building trades union group has also offered its services for free.

The restoration efforts will be put on hold Thursday as the Jewish Federation hosts a community Stand Against event at noon at Independence Hall where people are welcome from all races, religions and creeds. The federation stressed the event "is not a political event" and that the federation is nonpartisan. [[414975233, C]]

Police have not yet determined who was behind the vandalism.

The FBI opened a civil rights investigation into the vandalism, the agency announced Monday. "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence. As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time." The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is also deciding whether hate crime charges will be filed as investigators work to determine the motive for the vandalism.

Last week vandals damaged 154 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri. The incident sparked national outrage and a crowdfunding campaign from a Muslim group that has now raised more than $130,000. Some of that money will now go toward the Mount Carmel cemetery as well. On Monday, Jewish community centers and other organizations around the country received threats that caused evacuations. [[414819143, C]]

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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