Fundraising to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery begins

Money is being raised to repair and restore more than 100 headstones that were vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Wissinoming while police hunt for the person who toppled them.

Sunday morning, a man visiting Mount Carmel Cemetery called police to report three of his relatives' headstones had been knocked over and damaged. The discovery came less than a week after similar vandalism in Missouri.

Police said approximately 500 additional headstones were knocked over, apparently sometime after dark Saturday. The Jewish cemetery would've been closed from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning for the Sabbath.

Nicholas Boonin counted more than 530 toppled tombstones. His grandparents and great grandparents are buried at the cemetery.

Police believe the vandals entered the cemetery after dark Saturday evening. They're conducting a criminal mischief-institutional vandalism investigation.

According to the department, "We must allow the investigation to take its course before we can determine a specific motive or label as a particular type of crime. However, this is an abominable crime, that appears to target these particular headstones. We will continue to work to determine the person(s) responsible and make sure that they are held accountable for this reprehensible act."

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said authorities were doing everything possible to find those "who desecrated this final resting place."

"My heart breaks for the families who found their loved ones' headstones toppled," he said in a statement. "Hate is not permissible in Philadelphia."

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the damage reported in Philadelphia "shocking and a source of worry."

Mount Carmel Cemetery is located at Frankford and Cheltenham avenues. Many of the graves there are more than a century old.

The damage comes less than a week after a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis reported more than 150 headstones vandalized, many of them tipped over.

Sunday evening, local Muslim leaders joined rabbis and other faith leaders in a spontaneous cleanup.

Police said the Anti-Defamation League, with support from the Mizel Family Foundation, is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 is offering a reward of $3,000.

Philadelphia building trades unions are stepping up and offering to repair damaged gravesites, install lights and security cameras.

The following is a statement from Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council business manager John J. Dougherty:

"The desecration of nearly 100 headstones at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia was a cowardly act of anti-Semitism that cannot be tolerated. Out of respect to the families who were impacted by this atrocity, the Philadelphia Building Trades today offered to replace the toppled tombstones, re-sod damaged gravesites and clean the cemetery at no charge to anyone. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 98, for which I also serve as Business Manager, has offered to install additional lighting and security cameras at no charge to hopefully prevent such vandalism from ever happening again."

Note: John J. Dougherty is Business Manager of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, as well as Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local in Philadelphia, PA.