Tikkun olam … repair the world.
It’s an often-heard phrase throughout the Jewish community, but it’s not confined to just that world, as the people running Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown demonstrated last month.
When they learned vandals toppled about 25 tombstones at nearby St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church Cemetery on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, they were just as horrified as if it had been Jewish graves. The damaged cemetery dates back more than 150 years and houses the graves of Civil War soldiers.
And the Montefiore team came to the aid of people who had no idea they existed.
“I’m still in wonderment,” said St. Luke’s property manager Tom Truesdale, who discovered the damage on Aug. 22 after being summoned by his groundskeeper. “It’s raised my hope for humanity that our Jewish brethren came to the aid of this little Episcopal church. The way they stepped up is kind of cool.”
Once Montefiore General Manager Samantha Bromley learned about the situation and visited the site, she felt compelled to act.
“When the vandalism happened at Mount Carmel Cemetery we made an offer to help, but they were so inundated with calls we couldn’t,” Bromley said. “So we made a donation. When this happened, I took a walk around with their superintendent and noticed our markers are much bigger than theirs. I knew we had the equipment and skills to take care of it.
“I told them we’d like to do it and they said, ‘We’re getting estimates before we decide.’ I said, ‘I won’t charge you. We’re in the same neighborhood.’ It just seemed the right thing to do. In today’s world, there’s not enough neighborly help. I don’t live my life like that.”
A few weeks later, Montefiore sent a two-man crew over to St. Luke’s; they needed just a few hours to restore the damaged stones. “There were about two dozen stones, none of which were higher than my knees,” said Bromley, who is not Jewish. “I evaluated the ground myself and knew what needed to be done. I knew with the equipment we had we could help. If it had been 150 stones, I don’t know if we could’ve done all of the work, though.”
Just the offer in itself amazed the grateful folks at St. Luke’s.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an incredible act of generosity,’” Father Tim Griffin of St. Luke’s said. “There are other cemeteries around run by Christians who didn’t offer. It’s a story that needs to be told, particularly given the current political climate. The church wants to have them come to a coffee hour so we can honor them and say thank you.”
No thanks is necessary, said Bromley, who indicated at some point they’ll be happy to accept that invitation.
“I said to Father Tim, ‘We don’t need a plaque. Put your money some place else,’” she said. “I’m glad we were able to help. We deal in a business where a lot of times we don’t get to help out the living. But these are people’s loved ones. I saw online how one man’s parents and grandparents were buried there and how upset he was. That really bothered me.
“The message is you should help your neighbor, no matter who you are. I didn’t have to do anything. But I wanted to do it and could do it.”
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