While fallen headstones from the Mount Carmel Cemetery grounds were strewn nearby, Adrienne Berger stood in front of one untouched grave and breathed a sigh of relief.
At least her grandparents’ eternal rest had not been disturbed.
“My grandparents [Joseph and Minnie Berger] were born in the Ukraine and came here in the early 1900s,” the Queen Village native said. “I only knew him a little because he died when I was very young. I knew my grandmother a lot better.”
Like so many others, she had come to this final resting place not many in the Jewish community — including at least one rabbi — had ever heard of. Located in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia, just a few blocks from where the tracks of the Frankford El begin, there are only 2,200 graves inside the gates of the 2.2-acre lot.
Surrounded by cemeteries on all sides, Mount Carmel has been in existence since 1890. But there are no security cameras here and the rusty fences are low. Besides that, there’s an opening near the front for anyone to pass through, such as the perpetrators who came in and vandalized the grounds sometime after Shabbat late on Feb. 25.
Word spread quickly the next day, but not only in Philadelphia.
“I was out all day and didn’t hear about it,” Berger said. “I have first cousins who live in Israel. They heard before I did and called me. I’m happy to see my grandparents weren’t touched, but I haven’t found my parents yet.”
Cemetery caretaker Richard Levy said others wondering whether their loved ones have been affected by this should contact him. At the same time, he warns it might take a while finding out because of the demand.
“I’m trying to determine how many stones are down,” Levy said the day after the incident. “Take pictures and find out other stuff to tell family members.
“But it might take some time because I’m getting one call after another and my voice mail is filled up.”
He spoke to Philadelphia police officers from the 15th District who were trying to gather information, although there appear to be no witnesses.
The Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware region of the Anti-Defamation League has offered a $10,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible.
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