Meeting hate with love in St. Louis

The Muslim-Christian response to the vandalizing of a Jewish cemetery is yet another example of how the three faiths can use love to counter acts of religiously motivated hate and violence.

AP Photo/Jim Salter
Rosenbloom Monument Co. workers hoist a headstone at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., where over 150 headstones were tipped over. No arrests have been made. The cemetery is getting a show of support from cleanup volunteers, well-wishers and financial contributors from across many faiths.

After vandals damaged nearly 200 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis last weekend, it wasn’t only Jews who rose up to denounce the act of hate. Muslim groups helped raise more than $120,000 to repair the damage and offered a reward to catch those responsible. Some 2,000 people – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – helped clean up the mess. And then they held a multifaith prayer vigil.

What’s most remarkable is that local Jewish groups said the response, while extraordinary, was not surprising. People of different faiths around St. Louis have often lent support to each other during a crisis. Rather than define themselves solely by their religion, they recognize the bonds of love that mark the basis for the three Abrahamic faiths.

The response to the cemetery attack was similar to one in Canada after a mass shooting in January at a Quebec mosque and the one in France after the killing last July of a Roman Catholic priest in a church. The acts of interfaith unity following such tragedies serve as a strong message to counter a recent rise in religiously motivated hate crimes, such as the increase in bomb threats against Jewish centers in North America. One reason for the increase: Hate speech and anti-Semitic imagery are proliferating across the internet and social media, says United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Britain, said at the National Prayer Breakfast gathering in Washington this month: “Today, the world is awash with hate more so than any time in my lifetime. And if religion is part of the problem, for heaven’s sake, let religion be part of the solution.”

Mr. Sacks, author of the recent book “Not in God’s Name,” often tells Jews that they should not let themselves be defined by antisemitism but to recognize that such hatred is common whenever a person sees another as threatening simply by being different.

“We ought to be able in the 21st century to find resources for conveying the simple and profound fact that we are enlarged by difference and not threatened by it,” he said in a speech last year. “Because I think that it may be the single most important thing we have to learn, and out of it will become a new friendship and a new listening to one another, of Jew, Christian, and Muslim throughout the world, at least that is my prayer.”

The basis for the spiritual force in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he says, is the resonant line in the first chapter of the Bible when God says, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” If people of faith believe that, “then the greatest religious challenge is, ‘Can I see God’s image in someone who is not in my image? Whose color, culture, or class is not mine?’ ”

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