A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia became the latest victim of vandalism Sunday, when anywhere between dozens to hundreds of headstones were broken and toppled in an incident Israel decried as "shocking" and as "a source of worry."
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The second incident of vandalism in a Jewish cemetery in as many weeks, the incident in Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery comes a week after hundreds of Jewish graves were desecrated St. Louis in what many took as a continuation of anti-Jewish incidents, including numerous bombs scares at Jewish centers.
"The Philadelphia Jewish cemetery desecration is shocking and a source of worry," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emanuel Nahshon said in a statement.
"We have full confidence in U.S. authorities to catch and punish culprits. Vandals target cars, bridges with Nazi and racist graffiti in Buffalo. Evil and hatred must be stopped. Now," Israel said, in the first statement of the type since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected amid increasing concern in the Jewish community over a rise in anti-Semitic incidents that some have connected to Trump's candidacy and presidency.
The destruction was discovered Sunday by someone going to visit the graves of family member, according to its caretaker, who did not want to be named, but spoke to Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
A local ABC affiliate reported that no official cause or motive has been assigned to the incident, but said it was New Jersey resident Aaron Mallin who discovered the overturned headstones.
"It's just very disheartening that such a thing would take place," Mallin said. "I'm hoping it was maybe just some drunk kids. But the fact that there's so many - it leads one to think it could have been targeted."
The aged headstones are easy to topple, the carekeeper told Adler, the local Jewish leader who spoke to Haaretz. Some occasionally fall over on their own, he said. While this appears to be a clearly intentional act, it is not yet known if the motivation was anti-Semitism or rather general vandalism. An accurate tally of how many were knocked over will not be complete until late Monday, said Adler.
Adler said that the federation was immediately contacted by Jews and non-Jews in Philadelphia eager to help with restoration efforts. She has already been contacted by Christian and Muslim faith leaders in the city.
“As one of the local rabbis said to me, it doesn’t matter if anti-Semitism can or can’t be proved. Disrupting many Jewish graves is enough for our community to say ‘we’re not going to stand for this,’” said Adler.
Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery, a historic cemetery dates to the early 1890s, is located in northeast Philadelphia, an area of the city that used to have a large Jewish population but no longer does. Philadelphia’s earliest Jewish residents settled there before the U.S. was even established, and the community’s first charitable organization was established in 1813.
In response to the incident in St. Louis, a Muslim-lead crowd-funding campaign raised over $100,000 with the goal of the repairing the cemetery and expressing solidarity with the Jewish community.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made an appearance at the vandalized Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis, saying that "there is no place in America for hatred, prejudice or anti-Semitism."
Following the incident in St. Louis, Trump broke his silence and issued a long-awaited statement in which he said that "Anti-Semitism is horrible and it's gonna stop and it's got to stop." Trump has been accused of not condemning hate crimes against Jews.
If indeed vandalized, the incidents at both cemeteries could be part of a larger wave targeting Jewish communities across the United States.
On Monday last week, just one day before the incident cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized, a round of bomb threats targeted Jewish community centers in several states across the country for the fourth time in the last few months.