By Wakisha Bailey

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A restoration effort is underway at one of Philadelphia’s oldest Jewish cemeteries. The project at Har Nebo Cemetery in Oxford Circle is focused on preserving gravestones that need serious care.

“Sometimes, I don’t like rattling chains in cemeteries,” Joe Ferrannini, a modern-day preservationist with Grave Stone Matters, told CBS3.

har nebo cemetery

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He has spent more than a decade repairing historic graveyards and memorials like Har Nebo, Philadelphia’s oldest privately-owned Jewish cemetery.

“You can hear the air come out as it creates a good seal, and I just wiggle it until it touches down,” Ferrannini explained to CBS3’s Wakisha Bailey.

Inside the tightly-packed fence lies more than 35,000 gravestones, most with Hebrew inscriptions.

“The families may have spent a lot of money to preserve that memory, then over a couple of generations it gets forgotten,” he said.

The family of Oscar Loeb, however, won’t forget – or let their loved one’s headstone fall into disarray.

har nebo cemetery

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“It was sad. It was a little jarring. Everybody else’s was up, and his was toppled over,” Marci Green, one of Loeb’s descendants, said.

She told CBS3, “He came to the U.S. from Romania around the 1800s.”

His stone fell over like so many. Addie Lewis Klein, the Senior Director of Leadership Development and Community Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told Eyewitness News this happens in older cemeteries due to lack of maintenance, overcrowding, vandalism, and weather-related issues.

“In a place that’s mostly full, you’re not selling a lot of graves, so you become more reliant on those perpetual funds,” she said.

har nebo cemetery

Volunteer work is also important, which is how Green gives back; she belongs to Friends of Jewish Cemeteries, which is backed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Green said she met the organization while cleaning up Loeb’s grave.

“He’s my great grandfather, he’s my great grandfather, he was the brother to my great-great-grandmother,” she said.

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Green and Loeb’s other loved ones honored their ancestor, something they couldn’t do 100 years ago.

Wakisha Bailey