Muslims unite to help fix vandalized Jewish cemeteries

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Tombstones were overturned and damaged Saturday night at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, police said Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.

By Holly Yan and Eric Levenson

(CNN) — Once again, dozens of Jewish headstones have been vandalized, stoking fears of heightened anti-Semitism. And once again, members of the Muslim community are rallying to help.

The latest spate of destruction came over the weekend at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, where 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled. A week earlier, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi, who had started a fund-raising campaign to help clean up the St. Louis cemetery, sprung to action again after the Philadelphia attack.

“I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Last week, our Muslim community raised money for the vandalized Jewish Cemetery in St Louis. Since we raised well above the goal, we can now use extra funds to help here in Philadelphia.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had raised $155,000 — nearly eight times the original goal of $20,000.

El-Messidi said he immediately visited the Philadelphia Jewish cemetery and offered his support after hearing the news. After all, Muslims can relate to the feeling of racial intolerance.

“We must stand together against these acts of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia,” he wrote.

Members of the Philadelphia branch of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, an American-Muslim organization, also visited the cemetery and helped in the cleanup efforts, national spokesman Qasim Rashid said.

Salaam Bhatti, another spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said members were at Mount Carmel cemetery Monday helping with “whatever the cemetery needs.”

“This attack is not just an attack on our Jewish brothers and sisters, but on our common community,” Bhatti said. “We believe we need to be protecting our fellow humans from this extremism.”

Diverse supporters

While many Muslims have raised money for and helped clean up the vandalized Jewish cemeteries, others have launched fund-raising campaigns.

Steve Rosenberg, chief marketing officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the group has received $120,000 since Sunday.

Another campaign called Mount Carmel Cemetery Solidarity has raised more than $21,000.

And series of politicians, police officers and strangers have come out to help.

Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens have both helped clean up the damaged St. Louis cemetery.

Philadelphia police officers volunteered at their city’s vandalized cemetery.

And Mayor Jim Kenney went to the cemetery to help with repairs, according to a photo on Twitter.

“I just lifted one (headstone) up with a guy, it’s his grandfather’s next to his father who was a Marine in World War II,” he told CNN affiliate WPVI. “This country is in a bad spot, and the stuff has to be called out right away.”

CNN’s Sarah Jorgensen and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.