After a Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis, Missouri was vandalized with damage to at least 200 headstones during the weekend, activist Linda Sarsour fundraised more than $100,000 in a little more than a day (as of the time of publication) to cover the repairs.
Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington last month, set up the online campaign “Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery” with Tarek El-Messidi, the director of the Muslim charity CelebrateMercy, with the goal of reaching $20,000 to cover restoration costs for the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City. Within three hours Sarsour and El-Messidi had exceeded their goal.
The campaign is still accepting donations–“Any additional funds raised in this campaign will assist other vandalized Jewish centers nationwide,” an update on the website said, “We’ve raised $80,000 in the first 24 hours! That’s four times the goal – raising $1,000 every 20 minutes.” [emphasis in original]
“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. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event,” said a statement on the campaign website.
The response on social media has been positive, particularly among Jews in the St. Louis area with relatives buried in the cemetery. Celebrities have also endorsed the effort on social media, including J.K. Rowling and Ellen DeGeneres:
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) February 22, 2017
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) February 21, 2017
I just want to point out that @lsarsour, who today raised $25k for the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, is a Palestinian woman >
— daniel sieradski (@selfagency) February 22, 2017
This is such a beautiful thing.https://t.co/grBbo1hetz
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) February 21, 2017
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that police are investigating the damage to the cemetery, but as of now have not yet determined if it was a hate crime targeting the Jewish community.
Marla Levinson, whose parents and grandparents are buried in Chesed Shel Emeth, told the paper, “It’s unbelievably disrespectful, just a shame,” continuing, “Nobody’s saying it’s a hate crime, but it certainly wasn’t love or a compassionate situation.”
The desecration of the graves comes amid a wave of bomb threats with 68 in the last six weeks across the U.S. (and one Canadian province), the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday.
In January, arsonists destroyed a mosque in Texas. A similar online crowd-funded campaign collected more than $850,000 to pay for rebuilding.