After over 150 gravestones were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri in mid-February, American Muslims have jumped to the Jewish community’s defense. In the wake of the vandalism, Muslim activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi set up a LaunchGood.com fundraiser to help the Chesed Shel Emeth Society restore the damaged gravestones.
“Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery,” the fundraiser’s home page reads. “We extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.”
The campaign surpassed its $20,000 goal in under 24 hours. In one week of the month-long fundraiser, over 4,600 supporters have raised more than $140,000.
Sarsour and El-Messidi updated the fundraiser page as donations surpassed the original goal, stating that any leftover funds would be used to “assist other vandalized Jewish centers nationwide.” When another Jewish cemetery was vandalized Sunday in Philadelphia, the organizers shared their plans to allocate “significant funds” to its repair.
Many see these acts of vandalism as part of a broader wave of anti-Semitism in America. The Jewish Community Center Association of North America reported Tuesday that Jewish community centers have received 68 bomb threats across 26 states in 2017 alone. Noting that they are in “regular communication with the FBI,” the organization’s director of strategic performance David Posner went on to say,
“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life.”
For Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, religious discrimination is an all-too-familiar concept. Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist with the Muslim grassroots organization MPower Change, told Teen Vogue,
“Muslim Americans know all too well the impact that vandalism and desecration of our sacred places have on our communities, and we wanted to send a message to our Jewish sisters and brothers that we stand with them.”
El-Messidi, whose non-profit organization CelebrateMercy uses webinars and courses to educate the public about the life and values of the Prophet Muhammad, told NBC that he and Sarsour saw the fundraiser as an opportunity for American Muslim and Jewish communities to unite against religious discrimination.
“One of the silver linings of all this divisiveness and hate rhetoric has been the two communities coming together,” El-Messidi said. “Historically, we did not work together. People are putting their politics aside and working to fight bigotry together.”
--by Caroline Matas
Image Source: Jewish cemetery. Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons.