Cops: Damaged graves at Jewish cemetery in Delco not vandalized

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Damage to graves recently reported at a Jewish cemetery in Delaware County was due to environmental and age-related factors, not vandalism, according to police.

News of the damage at Mount Sharon Cemetery in Springfield Township spread late Friday and early Saturday on television news reports, which called the toppled headstones vandalism.

Springfield Township police said the damage was incorrectly reported as vandalism and was instead caused by environmental factors like trees and bush removal, as well as age.

Images of the fallen graves provided to NBC Philadelphia showed scattered headstones on the ground. At least one of them appeared to have been knocked down by a tree growing under it. The woman who took the images told the television station that about 30 graves appeared to have been damaged.

Cemetery management would attend to the toppled graves, police said.

A message left at the cemetery Saturday morning was not immediately returned.

The initial – and incorrect – local news reports were quickly picked up by national and international media outlets, including the Times of Israel, New York Daily News and the Daily Beast.

In recent months, multiple Jewish sites in the Philadelphia region and elsewhere have been targeted with vandalism and other threats. 

Mount Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish burial ground in Philadelphia’s Wissinoming section, was heavily damaged by vandalism in February, when about 100 headstones were toppled. That case remains under investigation and no motive for the vandalism has been determined by police.

Mount Carmel has also faced a long decline, with a dwindling endowment, only a part-time overseer, little new income and other low-grade desecration. 

A Northeast Philadelphia synagogue has been repeatedly struck by vandals since December. A 13-year-old boy was charged in late March with throwing a rock through a stained-glass window in one of the incidents. Police said the motive in that case appeared to simply be a kid “being mischievous,” not anti-Semitism.

Local Jewish community centers were among many nationwide that received bomb threats in February; a 19-year-old Jewish man suspected of being behind most of those threats was arrested in Israel in March.

While the motives in a number of the incidents remain unknown, they have sparked unease among the Jewish community and have prompted law enforcement officials to step up patrols at religious sites.

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