Jews and Muslims Work to Rebuild Arson-hit Black Churches

Since the murderous attack on a Charleston church, a string of fires has targeted black churches in the south, but interfaith efforts are working to rebuild them, The Guardian reports.

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Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in flames 20 years after being targeted by KKK. Greeleyville, South Carolina. June 30, 2015
Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in flames 20 years after being targeted by KKK. Greeleyville, South Carolina. June 30, 2015Credit: Reuters / Handout

“We believe the church is the heart and soul of a community,” Rabbi Susan Talve told The Guardian, explaining why different Jewish and Muslims groups have found themselves at the forefront of efforts to help rebuild black churches destroyed in a recent bout of arsons throughout the American south.

Since the deadly June shooting at the historic African-American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina left nine dead, the south's black Christian community has witnessed a surge in church related incidents, with roughly a half dozen houses of worship being burnt down. Though only three have reportedly been recognized as arsons, and another as a hate-crime, religious leaders in the south told The Guardian they believe the number is higher and indicates a concerning trend of racially motivated crimes.

“So we wanted to help them out," says Talve, who serves as the head of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, Missouri. "If you burn them down with hate, we’re going to build them back with love we’re going to build them back better and stronger,” she told The Guardian.

According to the rabbi, after black teen Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, a group of religious organizations came together to form the Rebuild the Churches fund - an umbrella organization of roughly 150 religious institutions working to counter racial hatred with religious tolerance.

The Guardian quoted Talve as saying that Jews have long been targets of hate and violence, and that when such racism targets another community then it is time to come together. Once the arsons struck, the report claimed, the network sprang into action, using local rabbis to connect between pastor and the fund.

“Hate is hate whenever you see it,” Talve told The Guardian. “This has been a time for us to show that, as allies, we understand that if we don’t all work together to end hate – racism, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamophobia – and if we don’t stand up when it happens, then we’re all going to suffer.”

According to the report, the fund has raised over $150,000 to help rebuild black churches and they hope to reach $250,000 – and they are not alone, with many Muslim groups joining them to lead the effort.

The attack on the Charleston church took place on the first eve of Ramadan, touching a sensitive nerve for Muslims. The report quotes 23-year-old Fatimah Knight, a black Muslim student, who since the attack has worked to bring a number of Muslim nonprofits together, raising over 58,000 for rebuilding efforts.

According to Knight, the recent string of church incident is underreported and has had made her feel vulnerable and fear for her mosque. "If churches burn down, there’s a void where God’s name isn’t being mentioned.”

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