Restoration, improvements starting at Mount Carmel Cemetery

In a steady rain with thunder booming in the distance we watched as love beat hatred, one stone monument at a time.

"Understandably," said Addie Lewis Klein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "The community has been really anxious to see the place restored and see the gravestones tended to."

Late in February, vandals overturned more than 150 gravestones at the 200-year-old Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia's Wissinoming section.

Volunteers came out almost immediately to clean up and try to right the toppled stones. But this is work for professionals. And so, stone masons--under the supervision of monument restoration experts --set about the painstaking work of resetting the massive markers.

"Any of these that have fallen over," said Dennis Montagna of the National Park Service. "Often they have (tipped) over easier because they were unstable. And because you had monuments that had subsided. So what's involved is basically lifting the major part of the monument, placing it out of the way, then lifting the base and resetting it."

The work does not come without cost. The Jewish Federation raised $220,000 for the cemetery restoration.
And not all of that money came from the local or Jewish community.

"From all over greater Philadelphia but also across the country," explained Klein. So how does that make her feel? "Amazing. It's been such an outpouring of love and generosity!"

Among those touched by stories of the vandalism here, 6-year-old Ayel Morgenstern from Parkland, Florida, whose mother sent to Philadelphia, a box of stones hand-painted by her daughter, for placement on the repaired gravestones. It's an ancient Jewish tradition.

She also sent a video message, now displayed on the Federation's Facebook page:

"There was some bad people who knocked down the tombstones at the cemeteries," explained Ayel, "And I wanted to make the whole world feel better, so I painted lady bugs and hearts. The ladybugs are for good luck in the hearts or for just a lot more love."

Those stones are already being put to good use-- set atop newly repaired gravestones.

The investigation into who's responsible for the vandalism is going nowhere, despite a big reward for information, according to police sources. But the outpouring of public support for this restoration project already amounts to a victory over the vandals.