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Muslim community organizes effort to repair damaged Jewish cemetery near St. Louis

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. -- After an act of vandalism damaged dozens of graves in a historical Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, organizers have stepped up to help repair the damage, with one notable effort coming from the Muslim community.

The fundraiser, called Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery, organized by Linda Sarsour with MPower Change and Tarek El-Messidi with CelebrateMercy, set their fundraising goal at $20,000, stating that "the Muslim-American community extends our hands to help rebuild this sacred space where Jewish-American families have laid their loved ones to rest since the late 1800's."

Police would not say if they considered the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City to be a hate crime or not, according to KTVI. It is believed there was some organization behind the crime, meaning this was not the act of one individual.

More than 100 headstones were damaged. Video shot from above the cemetery shows scores of headstones toppled to the ground.

The fundraising page states:

On the heels of bomb threats and hate crimes against dozens of Jewish community center's across the United States, a historical Jewish cemetery was vandalized this past weekend when over 100 headstones were damaged. Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. We also extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.

The fundraiser reached its $20,000 goal within hours, and continues to raise even more as donations continue to pour in.

Organizers said any money left over after the cemetery has been repaired will be allocated to other vandalized Jewish centers.

Mo. Governor Eric Greitens on Tuesday called for volunteers to join him at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon to help clean up.

Greitens released a statement, where he said he would be there and encouraged others to donate their time and effort, and also to consider a financial contribution.

One measure of a community's strength is what we do in moments like this. We can choose to cower, or we can choose productive action and shared service. We can turn a vile act into a moment for resolve and a demonstration of our state's faith.

At 3:00 PM on Wednesday, February 22nd, we will be bringing together a group of volunteers to help clean up the cemetery. There are simple things that need to be done—but at times like this, it's simple things that send a powerful signal about who we are as a state and as a community.

There is a concept in Jewish teaching and thought known as tikkun olam. It translates literally into “repairing the world,” but what it means more broadly is that we all have an obligation to one another and to be of service. It is in moments like this that the world is in most need of repair, and we must do our part.

My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I'd invite you to join us. If you'd like to help, please be there ready to work at 3:00 PM. If you have supplies to spare, please bring what you can of the following: rakes, large garbage cans and garbage bags, work gloves, five-gallon buckets, non-chlorine bleach, and wash rags.

The cemetery is located at 7550 Olive Blvd, University City, MO, 63130. We will be working until the close of the cemetery at 4:00 PM.

There are many of you that cannot join us but who still want to help. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis has put out a call for donations for the restoration and security of the cemetery. Please consider a contribution: https://www.jfedstl.org/emergency-response/.

I welcome you to join us as we rebuild in this moment, and I look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow.

Mo. Sen. Roy Blunt issued a statement on Tuesday, calling the vandalism "disgusting" and "an affront to the values we hold dear as Americans."

The disgusting acts of vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery are an affront to the values we hold dear as Americans,” Blunt said. “An attack against any faith compels all people of faith to come together in unyielding support for our neighbors, and unequivocal condemnation of the horrendous attack they have suffered. Together, we will make it clear to the perpetrators of this desecration that they have only strengthened our resolve to defend the rights of every faith and individual in our community. I extend my deepest condolences to the families that have been most directly affected by this attack, and thank the law enforcement personnel who are working to bring those responsible to justice.