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Philly Jewish cemetery unveils repaired headstones

Volunteers and support credited with helping completely restore the Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery in Wissinoming.
Mayor Jim Kenny and Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Naomi Adler tour through Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery where defaced headstones have been repaired. (Jordan Cassaway)

Under gray, rainy skies on Tuesday morning, the Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery in Wissinoming erected a challenge against the forces that attacked it 10 months ago, unveiling fully repaired headstones, the product of months of volunteer labor.

Mayor Jim Kenney described himself as “a little verklempt” (Yiddish word for choked up with emotion) as he toured the newly repaired cemetery on Tuesday morning, where he had previously been in attendance to survey the damage after the cemetery was attacked in February.

The suspected hate crime left dozens of headstones toppled at the traditional burial ground. But volunteers with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia undertook the repair of all the headstones.

“The support from Mayor Kenney and the entire Philadelphia community following the vandalism was truly amazing,” said federation president Naomi Adler, in a statement. “Every family deserves to know that their loved ones’ final resting place is not subject to vandalism and anti-Semitism.”

Dozens of headstones were toppled in the attack that some identified as part of a wave of hate crimes following the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The vandalism occurred sometime between Feb. 16 and 21, and was first reported on Feb. 26, according to the Jewish Federation.

“An investigation determined that the intruders entered the site through a hole in a chain link fence located on the northeast side of the property, forging an intentional path of destruction leading towards Frankford Ave. on the northwest side,” the federation said.

The vandalism was followed by a rally of more than 5,000 against hate on March 2 at Independence Mall, and donations rolled in from some 3,000 people who raised $288,000 to help put the cemetery back together.

The project was a massive undertaking, said Jewish Federation officials. Some headstones could be repaired in an hour, but others, ranging from 1,000 to 4,500 pounds in weight, had to be lifted completely out of the ground for proper repairs to be made so they could be reinstalled.

While Trump’s inauguration was blamed for a wave of hate crime incidents, many were later to be revealed as hoaxes or accidents.

The suspect arrested for tagging "Trump rules black b-tch" on cars in South Philly the night of the election was African-American. Another incident of toppled headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn was found to be have been caused by the wind. And a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers countrywide were allegedly perpetrated by a former left-leaning journalist trying to frame his ex-girlfriend with the hate crimes, and by a Jewish teenager.

But many other cases remain unsolved, like the swastikas and Nazi slogans painted on South Broad Street after Trump’s election.

“I am so thankful for the Jewish Federation and Naomi Adler for their leadership in repairing these headstones,” Kenney said. “We must continue to respond to hate with love and speak out against injustice.”