Statement on Mount Carmel Cemetery Vandalism
For fifty years, the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University has pursued the mission of “increasing knowledge and deepening understanding between the Jewish and Catholic peoples.” It has consistently sought to enact the vision of Jews and Catholics learning from each other in a relationship of friendship and mutual enrichment. Over time, those blessed with such a relationship come to learn each other’s gifts and traditions, and also what causes each other pain.
We, therefore, wish to express solidarity with the Philadelphia area Jewish community in their grief and sorrow after the vandalism that occurred over the weekend at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wissinoming. Early reports state that over one hundred tombstones were toppled or damaged in a wanton defilement of holy ground. Mount Carmel Cemetery is the resting place of many Jews from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We note, also, that the predominantly Christian tombs in adjacent North Cedar Hills Cemetery and Cedar Hill Cemetery were unharmed, indicating a targeted assault on Jewish graves. To compound this distress, today an area Jewish day school needed to be temporarily evacuated in response to a bomb threat.
Combined with a similar attack on a St. Louis Jewish cemetery one week ago, and phoned bomb threats to dozens of Jewish community centers around the United States and Canada since the beginning of the year, it is understandable that feelings of vulnerability and fear multiply. Such anxieties are not lessened by the realization that many minorities in the United States are having comparably frightening experiences. For instance, in recent weeks mosques in Seattle and Tampa were the victims of arson, and last week near Kansas City two visitors from India were shot, one fatally, by a gunman who reportedly exclaimed, “Get out of my country!” While the exact motives in each of these incidents are still under investigation, the temptation to see an emerging pattern of hatred and bigotry is strong.
These horrific occurrences, however, have almost always been accompanied by supportive words and actions from across our nation’s diverse religious communities, perhaps most visibly among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Fund-raising campaigns to repair the damage inflicted by such attacks rapidly meet or exceed their goals, and worship space is made available by congregations of other faiths. When religions stand together against such hateful deeds, when they receive no social sanction, then community ties will grow stronger and more committed to interreligious solidarity.
We renew our Institute’s dedication to interreligious understanding and friendship and invite everyone to join in this vision. We urge everyone to uphold the pluralistic values of our nation, expressed in 1790 by our first president, George Washington. His words apply today to all religious traditions, but noteworthy today is that Muslims, Christians, and Jews in various ways all see themselves as heirs of Abraham:
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D.
Adam Gregerman, Ph.D.