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Dozens Of Volunteers Helping To Cleanup Vandalized Jewish Cemetery

By  Kristen Johanson and Joe Holden

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Dozens of volunteers are working to cleanup a big mess left by vandals who damaged over 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.

This is expected to be a two-day cleanup effort at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Wissinoming, with some labor unions offering up their services for free.

People from across the country have reached out in the wake of extensive vandalism at the cemetery.

Local Religious Leaders Stand Together Following Jewish Cemetery Vandalism

"When I first laid eyes on the devastation there, I didn't know what to say or what to do," said Steven Rosenberg of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "I was here myself at first and it was utterly disgusting."

Philadelphia police say more than 100 headstones were toppled sometime Saturday night.

Rewards to catch the vandals have approached $50,000, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

"People have been laid to rest here. I don't know what would make somebody do this," said Rosenberg.

Gravestones Toppled, Vandalized At Jewish Cemetery

Jerry and Ellen Kaplan scoured the cemetery, looking for their loved ones headstones, finding it knocked over.

"It was tragic to see this. When we saw it on the news, I knew it, I knew it," Ellen Kaplan said.

"Horrible, can't say anything. Why would ... why?," Jerry Kaplan said, choking back tears. His mother is buried here.

With dozens of volunteers of all races and religions pitching in, they say it helps ease the pain a little.

"It's absolutely wonderful," Ellen Kaplan said. "It's a community effort."

Students, neighbors and local business owners spent Tuesday afternoon raking up leaves and cataloging the headstones.

Bob lives in the area and was chiseling away adhesive on the knocked over headstone of a 21-year-old Marine, who died in July 1945.

"Trying to get the adhesive off, so when the remount it, it's flushed against the stone," he said, clinking away.

"I figured I am a landscaper, and there's a lot of land here, so I figured any way I could help, I would do it," said Ed, a Catholic, who spent the day clearing away brush.

Michael is a local Karate teacher and likened the efforts to his career.

"It's about preventing, helping acts of bullying," Michael said. "This is just another act of bullying and another act perpetrated against people who can't defend for themselves, can't even speak for themselves."

Glenside resident Tess is a Unitarian and cleared her schedule to help out.

"I needed to help," she said.

The Justice Department has initiated a civil rights investigation.

Police have not yet labeled the vandalism and destruction a crime of hate.

"With that, we have no leads at this point," said Capt. Anthony Luca. "We are working every tip that comes in."

Police sources tell CBS 3 it's too preliminary to make any conclusions on the nature of their investigation.

"Philadelphia always seems to shine when the chips are down, which makes me proud to live here," said Rosenberg.

There is still no determination on who is responsible for the vandalism.

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