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While walking through Mount Carmel Cemetery Tuesday morning, Mayor Jim Kenney placed small stones upon headstones throughout the graveyard. In Judaism, this small gesture says that someone has visited the grave.
The Jewish cemetery, located in the heart of Northeast Philadelphia at the corner of Frankford and Cheltenham avenues, had been vandalized sometime during the third week of February.
Tuesday, about eight months later, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia gave Kenney the first official walkthrough, upon the completion the graveyard’s headstone repairs.
The crime was first reported on Feb. 26, with vandals entering the property through a hole in the chain link fence on the northeast side. More than 275 headstones were violated at the time, with hundreds more deemed unstable, leading to more than 500 having been repaired or restored.
“People seem to have no respect or no decency when it comes to honoring places like this that should be honored, should be sacred, should be quiet, should be peaceful,” Kenney said.
The Jewish Federation took the lead on the restoration project, as well as fixing the property’s fencing. The organization worked with National Park Service and monument experts to restore to property and to make sure the headstones wouldn’t topple over again.
The restoration project started a few weeks after the vandalization, said Naomi Adler, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and was a lot more expensive than they originally thought.
However, thousands of people from all over the world donated to the cause to make it all happen, she added.
When it was learned that the property had been defaced, thousands swarmed to the graveyard, according to a release from the Jewish Federation, many to see if their loved ones’ headstones had been among those desecrated.
“These are folks that could’ve been my neighbors,” said Kenney, the South Philly native. “Maybe some of them were.”
This was an emotional day for Adler as well. “Aside from being very emotional,” she said, “remembering what is was like and also remembering the feeling of the relatives that came here and called me personally to say ‘did this happen to my family?,’ I feel gratitude.
“Hatred cannot stand in Philadelphia.”