The range of emotions swirling through Naomi Adler’s mind has come full circle.
From the time the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia found out about the late February vandalism that resulted in some 275 headstones and monuments being knocked over or damaged at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia, repairing the cemetery became a mission.
Returning to Mount Carmel on Oct. 20 and seeing the efforts put into restoring that hallowed ground, left her with an immense feeling of pride and gratitude.
“What goes through my mind honestly is when I first found out about it and sorted through what was the right thing to do,” she said after doing a walk-through in preparation for an Oct. 24 ceremony where Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other dignitaries will tour the cemetery. “Because our mission normally is to work with the living.
“At the same time, this felt like a moment of vulnerability for our whole community. That was just a gut-wrenching feeling of complete disgust, and now I feel like we restored a little bit of love and respect to sacred ground. It feels good to say we took care of our people.”
The 275 stones have been repaired, along with 228 additional stones deemed unstable.
It took a massive effort on the part of a number of people, including more than 300 volunteers who did extensive cleanup, to make it happen. Repairing individual monuments, which averaged 1,600 pounds — and as much as 4,400 pounds when the base of the headstone is included — required the work of 12 professional masons. The average time fixing each monument was 105 minutes.
The repairs were made possible by $288,000 which Jewish Federation was able to raise for the project from 2,984 donors.
“I’m proud of this community and the work we have done to restore Mount Carmel to a place of dignity and to honor the lives of those there,” said Addie Lewis Klein, the Jewish Federation director of community engagement, who coordinated the project. “I’m proud the community entrusted the Jewish Federation to get the work done.
“When we took on this project, no one had ever done anything like it. I didn’t even know what to expect. It likely took just minutes for the vandals to knock these headstones over, but the repairs took a dedicated team of trained professionals many weeks.
The incident at Mount Carmel, coupled with similar incidents in St. Louis and at Jewish Community Centers across the country, where bomb threats and other acts of anti-Semitism occurred, led to the Jewish Federation-led Stand Against Hate rally on March 2 in Independence Mall.
Shortly afterward, plans were put in place for the restoration of Mount Carmel, which still has 315 monuments in need of repair due to natural causes or previous vandalism.
On Oct. 22, more than three dozen volunteers came out for a final cleanup in anticipation of Kenney’s visit.
“I’m honored by the opportunity to give Mayor Kenney a firsthand account of all the incredible work that our staff and volunteers have carried out,” Adler said. “The massive outpouring of support we’ve received from the city of Philadelphia and from communities across the world has been truly astonishing.
“We know we can’t do it for everyone but we could make a statement here and we did. We made a decision to go above and beyond, because we had donors that helped us do that.
“The non-Jewish world should hear that we are not going to let this happen. Even though we know we’ll never be able to say for sure this was a hate crime, we knew this vandalism was exceedingly destructive to the Jewish community here. This kind of desecration equals anti-Semitism and hatred and cannot be allowed to stand.”
Following the tour, Kenney and invited guests will participate in a brief ceremony, recite a blessing, then close with a moment of silence.