When I saw the news that a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, M.O., had been vandalized, I hoped it was a prank, a misprint, and old photo that had been misused. I was heartbroken, and instantly remembered a scene from one of the first movies in my filmic education.
The last time I had seen such desecration of a Jewish cemetery had been in archival footage and recreated moments in “Schindler’s List:” a scene taken from life in which Nazis had stolen Jewish gravestones to pave a muddy road so that SS soldiers could more easily drive into the concentration camp.
While Spielberg had recreated the tombstone road, and while some believe his use of the tombstones was a device, symbolizing Nazi disrespect for and extermination of Jewish people, many contend that in Germany and in Poland, imprisoned Jews really were made to dig up the stones, called Matzevot, and place them in the dirt.
Here was this horror and hatred again. Rows of gravestones memorializing deceased members of the Jewish community, toppled. Face down on the ground.
This is the ultimate disrespect.
Not only do Jewish people in America still face anti-semitism, this hatred is now following our Jewish sisters and brothers to the grave.
The desecration of our sacred sites, of mosques and synagogues, of Black churches, is nothing new. However, this goes even a step further than arson: this disgusting display of anti-Jewish hate targets specifically a group of people who lived, served their communities, were loved and lost, and now cannot even speak to defend themselves.
During an administration that engages in blatant xenophobia of all forms, including gas lighting the Jewish community (on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less,) it is infuriating but not surprising that anti-semitism in America is on the rise. This past week alone there have been hundreds of bomb threats called or mailed in to Jewish temples and community centers across the United States. And then this: the sacrilege committed against Jewish people and their families via the destruction of memorials of the dead.
Thankfully, Linda Sarsour and Muslims across the country are having none of it.
Within minutes of the news breaking, Sarsour, now well known for co-founding the Women’s March, took to Facebook and Twitter seeking information on the cemetery and how she could help. Sarsour posted:
“This is horrible, like make your blood boil kind of horrible. People can’t even die in peace through all this hate. #antisemitism.”
Within two hours of creating a LaunchGood campaign, Sarsour and co-fundraiser Tarek El-Messidi had exceeded their initial goal of $20,000 dollars. This afternoon, the campaign cracked the $100,00 dollar mark, with nearly 4,000 people donating to repair the broken tombstones in Jewish cemeteries. Sarsour and El-Messidi have stated that any money raised in excess of what is required to repair the cemetery will be donated towards repairing any other Jewish sacred sites in America (temples, community centers, cemeteries, schools) that are vandalized in acts of hatred.
In the era of 45’s emboldening of casual and extreme racists alike, interfaith solidarity between Muslims and the Jewish community is more important than ever. Just as Jewish people show up at marches like Russel Simmons’ “I Am a Muslim Too” gathering; just as Jewish Voice for Peace shows up in force for every Palestine solidarity march; just as Jewish people brought love to a mosque in my community after the Muslim Ban was enacted, Muslims need to show up whenever our Jewish brethren are in trouble or in need.
Linda Sarsour (MPower Change) and Tarek El-Messidi (Celebrate Mercy) are, after all, simply following in a tradition of friendship and brotherhood that dates back to the Prophet Muhammad himself (PBUH).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) drafted a covenant of protection which states that Muslims are bound to protect their brethren of other faiths. Egyptian Sultan Salahiddin recaptured Jerusalem from European Crusaders who had massacred both Muslims and Jewish residents for years, and reaffirmed the right of all Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live there together.
Noor Inayat Khan, a spy for English intelligence, sacrificed her life to thwart Nazi Germany during World War II.
In Albania, where Muslims and Jews had lived in peace for centuries, Albanian Muslims opened their doors to their fellow humans, and saved Albanian Jewish families from Nazi persecution.
Interfaith solidarity began with Islam’s Prophet; Linda, Tarek, and the many donors are simply carrying out the duty we Muslims are charged with when we declare our faith in Islam. We must uphold God’s justice for all his creatures; for our living sisters and brothers, and for their fallen loved ones.