Dozens of headstones in a Jewish cemetery were found vandalized the same weekend multiple cars were found defaced by swastikas in separate incidents across the country, the latest in apparent anti-Semitic occurrences that have left many fearful and shaken.
At least 103 headstones at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia were damaged after being knocked over, discovered Sunday by a man whose three relatives’ final resting places were among those defaced.
It appeared the vandalism occurred sometime after dark Saturday, police said.
Authorities have not classified the incident as a hate crime.
“We must allow the investigation to take its course before we can determine a specific motive or label as a particular type of crime. However, this is an abominable crime that appears to target these particular headstones,” Philadelphia Police said in a statement Monday. “We will continue to work to determine the person(s) responsible and make sure that they are held accountable for this reprehensible act.”
The mayor of Philadelphia also condemned the attack and expressed a commitment to find those responsible.
“My heart breaks for the families who found their loved ones’ headstones toppled... Hate is not permissible in Philadelphia,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “I encourage Philadelphians to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to show them that we are the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”
People of all faiths flocked to the cemetery to do what they could to restore the headstones and show their support for those targeted.
"This is people from Quaker, Muslim, Jewish communities,” a local rabbi told WPVI-TV. “Some rabbis, my colleagues... came out here out of the desire to be in solidarity to show that we're not interested in any narrative about victimization and as heartbreaking as this is, we are strong together.”
Others took to social media to help.
A GoFundMe Page dedicated to “Mount Carmel Cemetery Solidarity” had raised $15,218 by Monday, which the page’s organizer said would be donated to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, an organization also fundraising for the cemetery’s restoration.
Muslim Americans with MPower Change and CelebrateMercy added Sunday that they too were raising funds to repair the damages, announcing they were reaching out to those in Philadelphia on a fundraising page originally created to restore headstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Mo., found destroyed last week.
“On the heels of bomb threats and hate crimes against dozens of Jewish community centers across the United States, a historical Jewish cemetery was vandalized this past weekend when over 170 headstones were damaged,” the page noted. “Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. We also extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.”
By Monday, $134,535 had been raised to repair the damaged headstones, far exceeding the original $20,000 budget.
“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event,” the page’s organizers wrote.
Also over the weekend, swastikas were carved into five vehicles in Miami Beach, Fla., where local Jewish Community Centers had recently received false bomb threats, authorities said.
“The City of Miami Beach is deeply saddened by the incidents of hateful graffiti that took place this weekend. The swastika is considered a symbol of hate by all and will not be tolerated,” officials said in a statement.
Police are investigating the incidents, canvassing the area and watching surveillance footage in their efforts to locate those responsible, authorities said.
There was no evidence that the keyed cars were related in any way to the recent false bomb threats, officials said.
“Miami Beach is and will remain a respectful community for all. We are very concerned about what this says in our community. We would like to reassure our residents, especially our Jewish community, that we are actively working on this case and will not stop until we find out who did this,” City Manager Jimmy Morales said in a statement.
According to watchdog group the Southern Poverty Law Center, 1,372 bias incidents were recorded between the day after President Donald Trump’s election and February 7.
"In our most recent count, the biggest story in the last month has been the wave of anonymous bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers (JCC) across the country," SPLC wrote. "The first wave hit on January 9th, then on the 18th and again on the 31st. We counted at least 57 separate incidents in 24 states."
Bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers came as recently as Monday, when police in New York responded to bomb threat made against a center in Staten Island, a spokeswoman for the organization confirmed to SILive.com.
There were also unconfirmed reports of bomb threats in several other states, including North Carolina, where a JCC was evacuated, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrote on Twitter.
"This seems to be what's going on across the country," JCC Spokeswoman Ruth Lasser told SILive.com. "It's very disturbing.”
No arrests have been made in any of the incidents in Philadelphia, St. Louis or Miami Beach.
In Philadelphia, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 is offering a $3,000 reward leading to an arrest. Through the support of the Mizel Family Foundation, the ADL is offering a reward of $10,000 as well. Those with information can call 215-686-TIPS.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who made false bomb threats, the organization announced after the St. Louis incident.
“Many of my personal friends have family members who are buried in this cemetery,” Faizan Syed of CAIR-Missouri said in a statement. “This is a cowardly and an unacceptable act of hate against not only the Jewish community, but against all faiths and the values we hold dear as Americans."
In Miami Beach, authorities asked that anyone with information call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. "Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $1,000 reward," police said.