Muslim-led Campaign to Fix Vandalized Jewish Cemetery Triples Goal in Less Than One Day

'You could say there is a silver lining in all the hate that is being directed against Jews and Muslims in America right now,' says social activist Tarek El-Messidi.

Toppled headstones at the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery near St Louis, Missouri, February 21, 2017.
Robert Cohen/AP

Update: As of February 23, the campaign has raised more than $110,000, as donations continue to pour in at a rate of $1,000 every 20 minutes.

A Muslim-led crowdfunding campaign to help restore a vandalized Jewish cemetery near St. Louis has been overwhelmed with donations, allowing it to reach its goal within just three hours, according to one of its organizers.

Since its launching on Tuesday at 1 P.M. local time, the campaign has raised an average of $1,000 every 15 minutes, said Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim-American social activist, who helped coordinate it through a crowd-funding platform. He collaborated in the effort with Linda Sarsour, an organizer of last month’s women’s march in Washington and a supporter of the BDS movement against Israel.

“The feedback we’ve received has been amazing,” El-Messidi told Haaretz in a phone conversation from his home in Philadelphia. “You could say there is a silver lining in all the hate that is being directed against Jews and Muslims in America right now in that it has brought the two communities together, and this is just one example.”

Over the weekend, more than 100 headstones were damaged at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis. The incident coincided with another wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the United States.

The crowd-funding campaign, launched by El-Messidi and Sarsour, had set $20,000 as its goal. Within less than a day, it has already raised close to three times that sum from almost 2,000 donors. Any additional funding raised beyond the $20,000, before the campaign ends on March 21, will be used to finance repairs at other Jewish centers that have been vandalized during the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks.

El-Messidi is the founding director of CelebrateMercy, a Muslim non-profit that engages in what he calls “campaigns of compassion.” Among other campaigns, his organization raised more than $200,000 for the victims of the San Bernardino shootings.

“When I heard the news about what had happened at the Jewish cemetery, I was very saddened,” he said, explaining what prompted his latest campaign. “I thought about how I would feel were it my parents or grandparents buried there, and it just broke my heart.”

El-Messidi said he had heard that Sarsour was working on a similar effort to raise donations for the Jewish cemetery and suggested that they join forces.

Among the more than 100 messages of support he has received since the campaign was launched, El-Messidi asked to share one he found particularly moving.

"I knew we Jews needed to stand with Muslims,” it said. “I never thought we'd need you to stand with us. Bless you all. We'll stand together to get through the darkness."