The tour on Oct. 24th attracted extensive media coverage. Visit the Mt. Carmel press room for highlights, including articles and audio visuals from The Philadelphia Inquirer, ABC6 and WHYY.
On a grey morning in Philadelphia, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia officially unveiled its restoration work at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in the Wissonoming neighborhood of Philadelphia. Mayor Jim Kenney was visibly emotional at times as Jewish Federation President & CEO Naomi Adler took him on the first public tour of the repaired graveyard.
“I’m a little verklempt!” the mayor said through tears following a closing ceremony. “I am honored to be here today. I am so thankful for the Jewish Federation and Naomi Adler for their leadership in repairing these headstones.”
He later tweeted: “We must continue to respond to hate with love and speak out against injustice.”
The morning began with Mayor Kenney meeting several volunteers who had worked for months on the restoration effort, including representatives from the IBEW local union 98. The tour began shortly after, with Kenney taking the time to visit the gravesite of the Pearl family; on an earlier visit, the mayor had assisted the Pearl son to restore his father’s headstone, which had been knocked over in the attack. He also viewed a city fence where holes had allowed the vandals to enter, and said he would look into further repairs.
The tour concluded with a short ceremony in the center of the restored cemetery. The mayor and Naomi placed decorated pebbles on nearby headstones that had been vandalized and restored. Following a beautiful singing of the Jewish prayer for peace Oseh Shalom led by Naomi Adler, he read the following prayer, an English interpretation of the closing portion of the Mourner’s Kaddish:
“May an all-embracing peace shower down from the heavens, refreshing the lives of all the people on earth. May the Source of Peace inspire us to make peace for ourselves, for our community, and for all the people on earth. And let us say, Amen.”
“The support from Mayor Kenney and the entire Philadelphia community following the vandalism was truly amazing,” said Naomi Adler following the tour. “We were honored to share this profound moment in our own Jewish community history with the mayor, and are so touched by his interest and care in this project. This was an opportunity to fulfill our goals of promoting unity and inclusion, and a chance to re-commit ourselves to protect and secure the most vulnerable areas of our community. I think we were able to accomplish that today.”
The vandalism at the cemetery occurred sometime between February 16th and 21st, and was first reported on February 26th. 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 Avenue on the northwest side. Drone photos confirm that most of the recent vandalism was contained within this area.
“We normally deal with the living,” Naomi Adler later told a reporter from WHYY. “But this was such an act of desecration… to us, an act of hatred. And we could actually do something. So we said, ‘Let’s do that, together.’”
In response to the vandalism, on March 2nd, over 5,000 people gathered on Independence Mall for a communitywide, interfaith “Stand Against Hate.” Alongside Governor Tom Wolf and PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Jewish Federation introduced a campaign to raise money for cemetery repairs. Nearly 3,000 individuals from across the world gave donations, totaling over $288,000. The cleanup process began the week after the discovery with a sizable team of over 300 volunteers. The National Parks Service helped guide the restoration process and aided in the hiring of Grave Stone Matters to oversee the stonemason’s restoration work.
Work to repair the headstones varied from challenging to nearly impossible: Some of the downed stones had level bases and took just over an hour to fix, but many of those overturned had uneven bases, requiring both the base and the headstone — ranging from 1,000 to 4,500 pounds — to be lifted out for repair. Once lifted, a new hole was dug and leveled with a mix of pea stone and masonry sand. Then the base was cleaned, re-set in the hole and the headstone reattached with a ribbon of lead. For many of the larger, heavier stones, a small crane was needed to lift and re-settle the bases in freshly leveled ground. The majority of the funds went to repair the toppled stones, as well as 225 additional stones that were at risk of falling; remaining funds went toward replacing the fences, filling holes around the restored stones, removing invasive weeds, and supplies.
Work at Mt. Carmel is still ongoing: A new fence is now being installed on the Cheltenham and Frankford Avenue perimeter. Several hundred more stones are also in need of repair due either to natural causes or decades-old acts of vandalism. The Jewish Federation donation fund is still open for those wishing to donate for remaining repairs at www.jewishphilly.org/donate-now-mt-carmel-cemetery.