An unfathomable act took place over the weekend at Chesed Shel Emeth Jewish Cemetery in University City, a historic Jewish cemetery where 200 headstones were vandalized and destroyed. What benefit can one achieve from destroying headstones of people who have been laid to rest in peace? What mindset did these individuals have to engage in such a heinous act? As I was in the middle of writing a book, this incident was so devastating for me, that I had to put aside the book to express what I feel about this situation and share how we must stand against hate.
A cemetery is sacred ground where loved ones are laid to rest and their families have a place to visit them. The fact that individuals targeted a cemetery, it is no different than vandalizing the home of the living. This act was not just an assault and violation of the dead, but the very families they have left behind. We are a nation that is built on diversity and religious freedom. To target a people or a location that is sacred is unacceptable and is beyond ignorance and intolerance.
Our country's unity has truly been challenged these past couple of years by the rise in hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, and LGBTQIA communities. In 2017, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, has reported that hate crimes have doubled since last year and we are sadly still in the beginning of the year, “The city’s Police Department said 56 hate crimes were reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, with 28 of the incidents targeting Jews, according to Politico. In the same period last year, the total number of hate crimes was 31, with 13 targeting Jews” (JTA, 2017). This huge spike in hate crimes against Jewish communities shows that people who were silent about their intolerance have now found their voice through incomprehensible acts and feel lawless with no repercussions for committing these crimes. We as a nation cannot continue to sit back just because we aren’t directly affected by these hate crimes. We must rise and stand up for one another to dis-empower the people who commit these crimes.
Throughout my career, this is something I have been in constant battle with. Whether it be hate against my faith or the faith of others, I find myself fighting harder to build relationships and bonds with people who live for the same purpose I do, for peace, freedom, and pursuit of happiness. There is no place for hate in this country, we should have learned from our past mistakes. We need to unite now more there than ever before and end hate through education, passion, and love one person at a time. Fighting hate with hate is not what will bind us, it is our unity, persistence, and acceptance that will drown out the voices of hate.
This is the time where inter-faith relations are important, where they should be modeled by elected officials, civic, and faith-based leaders and emulated in our communities. This incident along with others has moved me in a way where I cannot do anything but rise up and stand with my brothers and sisters in word and deed.
I want my brothers and sisters of Jewish faith to know that your Muslim brothers and sisters will stand with you, we will help you, and we will protect you. Our coexistence is the legacy of our father Abraham.
Since this hateful incident, I am proud of how my community has rapidly responded with a $5000 reward by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), to capture the perpetrators and the Launchgood crowd-funding to repair the cemetery that exceeded its goal of $20,000 in hours of going live with donations of all sizes, and currently over $100K. There are also other ways we can respond that do not require money. I want us to think out of the box to be long lasting allies for one another.
Below are some ways to be an ally that hold moral value and have symbolic meaning:
· Call the cemetery/synagogues in Missouri and your local synagogues and let them know that we stand with them.
· Start a media campaign under the hashtag #IStandWithMissouriJewishCommunity where you and others take selfies with a sign that says “I stand with the Missouri Jewish community”.
· Post a sign in your window saying “I stand against HATE”,
· Write a letter and drop it off to your nearest synagogue showing them they have your support.
· Organize a vigil in your neighborhood
· Go out of your way to greet a Jewish neighbor
· Give an affirmation smile to Jewish community member when one least expects it
· Join the Facebook page I Stand Against Hate with this link, https://www.facebook.com/I-Stand-Against-Hate-1262288317196252/
You can of course do anything else that is not listed, what’s most important is showing your support to the Jewish community that feels under attack by hateful people because of their faith. These acts of kindness should be practiced with any community under attack. We must become each other’s keeper in these difficult times.
Finally, this is how we will educate the masses on how important it is stamp out hate every time it rears its ugly head. It is our moral obligation as global citizens to educate people acceptance and respect regardless of age, so that we can have safe and peaceful communities.