A fundraiser for a vandalized Jewish cemetery is sending a strong message of unity and tolerance.
The effort organized by Muslim-American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi was launched this week to fund the repairs of nearly 200 headstones that were damaged and toppled in the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City in Missouri.
The fundraiser exceeded its goal of $20,000 so fast, it has expanded into an effort to support Jewish community centers that have been targets of anti-Semitism.
The vandal or vandals destroyed more that 170 headstones at the cemetery, according Anita Feigenbaum, the cemetery’s executive director.
Members of the community have been left rattled.
“A lot of people are coming out (to the cemetery) — they’re just interested to see, ‘Was their loved one’s monument affected by this?’ ” Phillip Weiss, owner of a monument company helping the cemetery lift the downed stones, told CNN affiliate KTVI on Tuesday.
This year alone, 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province received dozens of bomb threats, according to the Jewish Community Center Association.
“All bomb threats this year proved to be hoaxes, and all JCCs impacted have returned to regular operations,” the association said in a statement.
Muslim-Americans step up to support
Sarsour of MPower Change and El-Messidi of CelebrateMercy organized the crowdfunding campaign to support the vandalized cemetery.
Their goal of reaching $20,000 by the end of March was surpassed in three hours, with donations at nearly $60,000 and rising early Wednesday.
CNN has reached out to Sarsour for comment but has not heard back.
American Muslim communities and organizations have also stepped up to support Jewish community centers that have targets of bomb threats. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who made the false bomb threats.
Muslim Americans’ efforts to support the Jewish community centers are in contrast to Rick Santorum’s accusations Tuesday.
“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,” Santorum told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Santorum did not provide details or examples to support his assertion.
No clues yet
Police are reviewing security camera tapes from the St. Louis area cemetery, but its director, Feigenbaum, said the footage has not provided any clues on who was behind he attack.
Crews are cleaning up the cemetery, straightening the headstones and assessing the damage.
The White House has denounced the spate of threats made against Jewish community centers around the country.
The response followed weeks of criticism that the Trump administration has not been forceful enough in denouncing the anti-Semitism that has occurred since his election.
“Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said.