Reports hit national news Saturday morning that gravestones at Mount Sharon, a Jewish cemetery in Delaware County, had been toppled. Police said it was not vandalism. Neither that nor Shabbat stopped families from checking themselves.
Susan Leibowitz stood anxiously in between the rows of gravestones as her eyes moved across the granite markers looking for her grandparent’s names.
“I know this is the row, because those are my friend’s parents over there,” she said, gesturing back toward the graveyard’s main road.
From the car, Leibowitz’s elderly mother gestured for us to move further down the row.
“‘Garner’ is the name close to them,” she said, clearly unsettled.
Another 20 yards down the uneven path, a tide of relief struck.
“Oh, here they are.”
Leibowitz leaned into her grandfather’s gravestone, her voice betraying the tears her dark sunglasses hid.
“This is who I’m named for.”
Just a few minutes later, a voice called out to Susan. “Rosalie?” she responded.
Rosalie Lazarow, who came to Mount Sharon with her husband David, is a friend from elementary school. The two haven’t seen each other in close to 30 years. The Lazarows had also come to inspect the final resting places of their loved ones.
Reports hit national news Saturday morning that another Jewish cemetery in the Philadelphia area had been vandalized. Before noon, police had released a statement that environmental factors were responsible for the toppled gravestones, and the destruction was not malicious. Neither that statement nor Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath during which visiting cemeteries is discouraged, stopped the steady trickle of families coming to check on their deceased relatives.
“The timing seems odd,” said Lyn Promisloff. Monday is the first day of Passover.
“I think this one was vandalism,” said David Feldman, referring to a damaged grave site. “It’s just too new to have shifted on its own.”
At a glance, Mount Sharon is not a cemetery that cries out neglect. There is no litter, and the grass is a healthy green. The southwestern side feels new, with more space between the headstones. Towards the main entrance, things begin to feel more cramped. Some gravestones sit at precarious angles while others have been completely swallowed by ivy. Toppled markers become commonplace, and the initial reporting of 30 disturbed sites is obviously underestimated.
After an hour, a soft consensus emerges among the families that age and a lack of upkeep are indeed the most likely culprits. Many of the toppled markers are old, and the stones appear to have been on the ground for some time.
Bob Promisloff leads to me a flat stone with the name “L. Rosenfeld” inscribed on it. Between him and his wife Lyn, they have roughly 20 family members buried in Mount Sharon.
“This was my grandfather. He was one of the founders of the Benevolent Society in South Philly. Every week they would stash away a few bucks until they had enough money to bring someone else over from Russia. That guy would go live in somebody’s attic until he made a little money, and then they’d start that process all over again.”
Not much is explicitly said about the current political climate, but unsolicited Mr. Promisloff does share a brief story about a colleague who was the victim of a hate crime. The subtext of what today’s visitors are saying is: This may not be vandalism, but no one would be especially surprised if it had been.
“Best case scenario, it’s neglect” said Mrs. Promisloff. There seemed more relief in her expression than frustration. “I can tell you, [Mount Sharon] is going to have a lot of phone calls to answer.”