Hundreds of headstones have been broken and toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in a wave of anti-Semitic terrorism.
A severe case of vandalism is being investigated in University City, Missouri. Over 180 gravestones were intentionally damaged at the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. The headstones were toppled over and many were broken. Police are currently reviewing surveillance videos from the cemetery and nearby businesses, and have yet to name any suspects. On the same day, 11 Jewish community centers received bomb threats— reportedly the fourth in a wave of threats since the New Year.
Still, University City police are hesitant to label the vandalism as a hate crime: “Although there is nothing to indicate that this is a hate crime, the department has increased patrols in the area and officers are conducting frequent walkthroughs of religious institutions throughout the City.” Karen Aroesty of the Anti-Defamation League of St. Louis says the cemetery is sacred ground. The Chesed Shel Emeth site has been used for burial since the 1800’s, and many of the headstones damaged were centuries old. “There’s a difference here between intent and impact” she explains, “The intent may have been one thing, but the impact is huge on the Jewish community…This is where your loved ones come to be safe in perpetuity”. The cemetery has seen a rush of family members eager to view and restore the gravestones of their loved ones.
Cemetery executive director Anita Feigenbaum reports an “outpouring of support” from across the country and many offers to help with costs to repair the damage. The cemetery has also expressed hope to use funds to finally place markers on graves of children and infants. The Muslim American community has been especially supportive. Linda Sarsour of MPower Change and Tarek El-Messidi of CelebrateMercy organized a crowd-funding campaign with the goal of raising $20,000.
The effort has well surpassed expectations, receiving over $58,000 from more than 2,000 donors globally. Following the restoration of Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, any remaining funds will be donated to repair “any other vandalized Jewish community centers”. The Jewish Virtual Library calculates 695 reported anti-Semitic acts took place in the United States in 2015, as well as 257 acts against Islamic persons. The majority of these acts were in the form of vandalism.
“Is it not a human soul?” are the words that inspired the campaign, spoken by the late Muslim Prophet Muhammad, who was questioned when he stood to pay respects for a Jewish funeral procession. The site expresses:
“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.”
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