As chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Naomi Adler felt a deep sense of anguish over the desecration of headstones at a local Jewish cemetery.
To Adler, the toppling of 100 headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Frankford over the weekend reminded her of the anti-Semitic vandalism committed during World War II, when mobs destroyed Jewish burial grounds across Europe.
In the days that followed the Mount Carmel Cemetery incident, Adler said she was heartened by the outpouring of support from different groups and religious faiths, including local Muslim organizations.
Still, Adler said she wanted to make a statement to the community.
That has taken shape as a rally called Stand Against Hate, set to take place on Thursday, starting at noon, at Independence Mall.
The Jewish Federation, she said, wanted “to be able to turn around the negativity that’s out there. We can’t do it all the time, but we could establish a time when people can stand together and do something.”
The rally will join Philadelphia’s Jewish community with supporters from other faiths, along with local and state officials to denounce the recent rise in anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats — locally and nationwide — made against Jewish organizations.
The desecration reported Sunday came less than a week after a similar episode at a Jewish burial site in St. Louis, Missouri, and amid another wave of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country.
“Clearly we’re seeing a spike, in at least what they’re calling institutional vandalism, if not acts of true hate,” said Adler, whose group has been helping map the damage to the Jewish cemetery in Northeast Philly, and coordinating repairs. “It is overwhelming to some, and it certainly is creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.”
Philadelphia police are still investigating the vandalism at Mount Carmel, and while calling it “an abominable crime,” have not yet classified it as a hate crime, or as anti-Semitic.
But Adler said the incident has been an emotional experience. “For me, as a child of a Holocaust survivor … that was used during that time of history, either they kill somebody and not allow them to bury them according to Jewish law, or desecrate a grave so that it no longer represents spirituality.”
In Philadelphia, members of the Muslim faith stood in solidarity with the Jewish community following the vandalism, denouncing the incident and offering their help in cleanup efforts and to donate funds.
“This is what their faith demands they do,” said David Straus, senior rabbi at the Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood. “When our brothers and sisters are under assault, they don’t need to feel like they stand alone.”
Straus is among several speakers planned for Thursday’s rally.
“There’s been an enormous outpouring of concern, prayer, support, of wanting to stand with us, of condemnation of this act and an understanding from so many of my friends,” Straus said.
The same support was expressed, he said, following the bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers around the area. The cemetery vandalism and bomb threats were separate acts, he said, but its victims were in a way similar. “The dead can’t defend themselves and the JCCs, on a weekday, are largely populated by preschoolers or seniors.”
“It’s really an affront to all people who maintain values of human dignity,” Straus said.