The latest in a series of wicked acts of vandalism - one aimed to harm toddlers at play outside a synagogue - has rallied neighbors in the city's Mount Airy section to step forward.

Rachel Gross, executive director of the Germantown Jewish Center, stood in a toddlers' playground at the synagogue at Lincoln Drive and West Ellet Street, and pointed to a half-dozen foot-wide holes dug in the sand.

Shards of glass had been hidden inside.

"Glass was buried all over," said Gross. "It was clearly intentional. There is no other conclusion than someone did it on purpose, and they did it to hurt children."

She said the playground has been shut since April 15, when the glass shards - most about two to three inches long - were discovered. The perimeter of the 40- by 35-foot playground is surrounded by yellow caution tape and orange netting to keep children out.

Residents have had enough. On Sunday, volunteers from two neighborhood groups - Carpenter's Woods Town Watch and West Mount Airy Neighbors - will dig in with shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows to remove the sand.

"We want to show neighbors that if you need help, we'll help you," said Heather Pierce, president of Carpenter's Woods Town Watch, which was formed in October to keep an eye on crime in the neighborhood.

Gross said that without the help of neighbors, removing the sand would have cost about $10,000.

The planting of broken glass at the playground - which features a sliding board, a train, a tiny log cabin and a large yellow umbrella for shade - is among several acts of vandalism at the synagogue this year.

On Jan. 4, two black swastikas were spray-painted on the rear of the synagogue. About two weeks later, a fire was set in a kindergarten classroom, causing damage throughout the large complex. Last month, a classroom window was broken at center, and a swastika was painted on the home of a nearby Jewish neighbor.

Capt. Winton Singletary, commander of the 14th Police District in Northwest Philadelphia, said police think the vandalism is the work of juveniles, most likely from the area.

Laura Siena, executive director of West Mount Airy Neighbors, said that leaders of her group, officials from the town watch and synagogue held a meeting last month. She said those assembled quickly agreed to help remove the glass-laden sand from the playground.

"What was wonderful was everybody said, 'What a great way to bring the community together.' When something like this happens, you can count on the people to rally."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.