Since early January, a wave of anonymous bomb threats against Jewish community centers, day schools, synagogues, and other Jewish-affiliated buildings has swept across the country, from Albuquerque to Chicago to Birmingham. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that more than half of all US states and one Canadian province have experienced nearly 150 bomb threats since the year began.
As of March 9th, the Trump administration has yet to meaningfully respond, despite all 100 US Senators sending an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director James Comey two days earlier.
“We write to underscore the need for swift action,” the lawmakers wrote. “… We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating, and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs [Jewish community centers], many of which are institutions in their communities.”
In addition, three Jewish cemeterieshave been vandalized in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Ft. Wayne, ID, since the beginning of the year. And hate crimes against Muslim communities continue to rise as well, with numbers surging 67 percent from 2014 to 2015, and rising another 7 percent the following year, according to the FBI.
The FBI arrested a St. Louis man in early March whom they say is connected to nine threats, including eight against Jewish institutions and one against the ADL.
The president did condemn the bomb threats, as well as the shooting of two Indian immigrant engineers in Kansas City, in his February 28th address to Congress. However, earlier that day, he’d suggested to state Attorneys General that the threats might have been orchestrated “to make others look bad,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Acts of violence against Muslims and Jews will only make us stronger and bring us together.” — Rabbi Yosef Goldman
“To cast doubt on the authenticity of anti-Semitic hate crimes in America constitutes anti-Semitism in itself, and that’s something none of us ever dreamed would disgrace our nation from the White House,” Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement about Trump’s remark.
In the face of White House inaction, Jews and Muslims across the country are reaching out to each other to offer support and aid in the wake of increased hate incidents and crimes.
United Against Hate
After vandals toppled more than 170 headstones at the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis the weekend of February 18th and 19th, Muslim-Americans Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi knew they had to act.
“While these senseless acts have filled us with sorrow, we reflect on the message of unity, tolerance, and mutual protection found in the Constitution of Medina: an historic social contract between the Medinan Jews and the first Muslim community,” the two wrote in a joint statement. “We are also inspired by the example of our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who stood up to pay respects for a passing Jewish funeral procession. When questioned on why he stood for a Jewish funeral, he responded, ‘Is it not a human soul?’”
Sarsour is the cofounder and CEO of MPower Change, a Muslim organization working on social and economic justice for all, and she’s one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington. El-Messidi serves as director of Celebrate Mercy, a nonprofit promoting a better understanding of the Prophet Muhammad. The two set up a crowdsource fund on LaunchGood.com, asking for monetary support to repair the headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth.
Just a few weeks later, on March 5th, vandals struck at the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia, toppling nearly 100 headstones. Sarsour and El-Messidi added a request for support for the second cemetery to their LaunchGood fundraising page.
Coincidentially, Mount Carmel is only a few miles from El-Messidi’s home, so he drove to the cemetery to see how he could help. There, he found several fellow Muslims side by side with local Jews and Christians, working together to repair the desecrated stones.
A local rabbi, Yosef Goldman, was at the cemetery as well, and he was also struck by the spirit of fellowship and cooperation between the two communities.
“We’re turning upright the stones that are light enough for us to do so. And I’m feeling that the faith community in the US is strong,” he wrote in a public statement on Facebook. “A caretaker for a nearby Quaker cemetery has been here for hours, and Muslim and Christian friends and colleagues are reaching out. Acts of violence against Muslim and Jews will only make us stronger and bring us together. #sacredresistance #lovetrumpshate”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that several Muslim military veterans have posted public offers on Twitter to stand guard over Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in several US cities to protect them from vandals and arsonists.
Jews across the US are showing up for their Muslim neighbors in the face of hate incidents and hate crimes as well, says Rabbi Goldman.
“We have shown up in force to rallies in support of immigrants and refugees, and congregations around the country are adopting refugee families and becoming sanctuary synagogues,” he said in a sermon he delivered at the Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel on March 4th, which he shared with Green America. “Jews have shown up at Muslim community centers and mosques in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors, here in Philadelphia and throughout America. We know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of immigration policies and of religious discrimination. And so we’re showing up. And it’s making a difference.”
One particularly moving story of Jews making a difference for Muslim victims of hate crimes comes out of Tampa, FL. Late at night on February 24th, a small fire broke out in the Daarus Salaam mosque. Firefighters later ruled that the official cause was arson.
Although there was only a small amount of fire damage, the mosque’s main prayer hall sustained significant water damage after the blaze triggered the mosque’s sprinkler system. Daarus Salaam has been forced to hold prayer services in a nearby building while the mosque undergoes repairs and law enforcement investigates the arson.
Shortly after the fire, mosque member Adeel Karim set up a crowdsource page at LaunchGood.com to raise funds for the mosque, particularly so it can “continue to promote interfaith events and dialog with our neighbors.”
“This community has held several events for outreach, and the money will double down our efforts to ensure love, empathy, and compassion are instilled,” he wrote on the page. Though Karim’s LaunchGood campaign only had a goal of raising $40,000, the site brought in over $60,000 in less than a week, and it had reached nearly $80,000 by March 9th.
But Karim noticed something odd about the donations.
“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause,” Karim wrote on Facebook. “There are sums of 18, 36, 72 dollars, etc. Then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Goldstein, Rubin, Fisher … Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called chai. It wishes the recipient a long life. #chaidelivered”
Karim said that the local Jewish community has shown up “in force” to support the mosque’s worshippers.
Mosque members told Tampa’s WFLA News that they’ve received hundreds of e-mails and text messages of support.
And Jews, Christians, and others attended a solidarity gathering in front of the mosque on February 24th. “When I see a rabbi or I see a priest here, it makes me feel so good. So proud,” mosque member Mahfoud Rabbani told WFLA at the gathering. “Cause … this is what this country is about.”