American Muslims raise money to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery

Muslim community leaders launched a fundraising campaign to help repair a historic Jewish cemetery that was vandalized over the weekend. Donors surpassed the initial goal of $20,000 within just three hours.

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP
Sally Amon and her son Max Amon of Olivette, Mo., react as they saw toppled gravestone of her grandmother Anna Ida Hutkin at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St. Louis on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Amid a flurry of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, many American Muslims are stepping forward to support the Jewish community.

The most recent effort, a fundraising campaign started by Muslim-American activists to help repair a vandalized historic Jewish cemetery, had garnered more than $65,000 donations as of Wednesday morning – more than triple the initial goal.

The raised funds, which surpassed the initial goal of $20,000 within three hours, will now also be used towards supporting other vandalized Jewish centers across the country, according to organizers Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” they wrote on the crowdfunding website Launch Good. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

More than 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis, Mo. suburb of University City were damaged and toppled this weekend. The incident comes as a growing number of Jewish Community Centers nationwide have become the targets of bomb threats: In the first two months of 2017 alone, the Jewish Community Center Association reported 68 incidents at 53 centers in 26 states and one Canadian province, all of which proved to be hoaxes.

The wave of threats prompted President Trump to speak out on the topic for the first time on Monday, after repeated calls for him to address anti-Semitism.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said, according to The New York Times.

While police are still investigating the incident at the St. Louis cemetery, some have suggested that Muslims are the culprits behind these incidents.

"If you look at the fact, the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we're seeing, I hate to say it, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian or Muslim communities," former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Tuesday. "So let's just lay out that fact."

Ms. Sarsour and Mr. El Messidi hope their fundraising efforts will help to dispel that perception. Citing a story of the prophet Muhammad, the organizers said they were inspired by “the message of unity, tolerance, and mutual protection found in the Constitution of Medina,” a treaty between the Jews of Medina and the first Muslim community.

As more Muslim organizations step up to help Jewish communities, El-Messidi hopes this campaign can bring two communities together.

“But out of this horrible election cycle, something beautiful has come out of it and [Muslims and Jews have] bonded together to support each other and stand up to this hate,” he told The Washington Post. “Politics can get in the way of our basic humanity; I hope this breaks through all those walls, no pun intended, to help bring us closer together.” 

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