By Daniel Victor
February 27, 2017
Two attacks on Jewish cemeteries in the last week have resulted in an outpouring of more than $136,000 in donations from thousands of Muslims and others, who have also pledged to financially support Jewish institutions if there are further attacks.
Jewish organizations have reported a sharp increase in harassment. The JCC Association of North America, which represents Jewish community centres, said 21 Jewish institutions, including eight day schools, had received bomb threats on Monday.
Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, asked Muslims to donate $20,000 in a crowdfunding effort to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones that were toppled near St. Louis last week. That goal was reached in three hours.
Though the activists do not have cost estimates yet, Mr. El-Messidi said on Monday that the money raised would most likely be enough to repair the graves near St. Louis and in Philadelphia, where about 100 headstones were toppled on Sunday.
Any extra money will be held in a fund to help after attacks on Jewish institutions in the future, he said. That could mean removing a spray-painted swastika or repairing the kind of widespread damage seen in the graveyards.
About a third of the donations have come from non-Muslims — Ellen DeGeneres and J. K. Rowling are among the celebrities who have expressed support — but Mr. El-Messidi said it was especially important for Muslims to support Jews as they deal with anti-Semitic attacks.
“I hope our Muslim community, just as we did last week with St. Louis, will continue to stand with our Jewish cousins to fight this type of hatred and bigotry,” he said.
Since the start of the year, the association said, Jewish community centers and day schools in 30 states and a Canadian province have reported 90 threats.
Monday’s threats, all hoaxes, affected centres in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.
“The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the F.B.I. and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out — and speak out forcefully — against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country,” David E. Posner, the JCC’s director of strategic performance, said in a statement. “Actions speak louder than words. Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities.”
Legislators and governors in several states condemned the threats. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Monday that Mr. Trump “continues to be deeply disappointed and concerned by the reports of further vandalism” at the Jewish cemeteries.
“The president continues to condemn these and any other forms of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms,” Mr. Spicer said.
Barbara Perle, 66, of Los Angeles said on Monday that several of her family members were buried in the vandalized Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis. That includes her great-grandfather, Nathan Blitz. Seeking religious freedom and an escape from economic oppression, he fled Russia in the early 1900s and settled in St. Louis, where he served as a rabbi and started a new life for his family.
But because all of his surviving great-grandchildren live hundreds of miles away from St. Louis, they do not know if his grave was among the 200 that were vandalized. No matter, Ms. Perle said; in her eyes, an attack on one gravestone in the Jewish cemetery was an attack on them all.
“To come to the U.S. and create this amazing life where everyone felt safe and secure and able to be who they were, that was an incredible thing coming from Eastern Europe,” Ms. Perle, a hospice medical social worker, said. “For this to have happened where my family has been laid to rest was just heartbreaking. These are unconscionable acts.”
She said that she had reached out to thank Mr. El-Messidi after reading about the effort and that she had “come to understand more about our shared humanity.”
Mr. El-Messidi, who lives in Philadelphia, walked through the vandalized Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery on Sunday. He said he saw people huddled over the gravestones, weeping.
“We’re in a very different time in the U.S. when people cannot even rest in peace after they pass away,” he said, “where people have to be worried about their ancestors’ graves.”
Alan Blinder contributed reporting.