By Israel Hayom—
Vice President Mike Pence rolled up his sleeves on Wednesday and joined the cleanup efforts at a suburban St. Louis Jewish cemetery badly damaged by vandals.
The Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, Missouri posted on Facebook that 154 headstones were vandalized in the damage discovered Monday. Pence condemned “this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrate it in the strongest possible terms.”
He lauded those who donated funds for the cemetery’s repair, as well as people from across Missouri who have “rallied with compassion and support.”
“You have inspired this nation,” Pence told volunteers. “There’s no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism. I must tell you the people in Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri. And I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is all about.”
Shocking as the act of hatred might be, the aftermath is a heartwarming story of Americans of all faiths — particularly Muslims — coming together to help fund the cleanup.
On Wednesday, Muslim groups launched a crowdfunding campaign for the cemetery and set a goal of $20,000. In a matter of hours, it had raised nearly $75,000.
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, called the cemetery vandalism a “senseless act of desecration.” He organized a volunteer effort to help in the cleanup Wednesday, and an interfaith service was planned for the afternoon. A large crowd attended a candlelight vigil at the cemetery Tuesday night.
The Anti-Defamation League has offered a $10,000 reward for the vandals’ arrest and conviction. Police said there is no evidence of a hate crime, but they have not ruled out the possibility.
Muslim-American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to help the cemetery pay for the repairs.
The “Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery” campaign was launched in an effort to “send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities” and to condemn “hate, desecration, and violence,” Sarsour and El-Messidi said.
“Muslim-Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery,” the campaign website said. “We also extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.”
Greitens later told reporters at the cemetery that President Donald Trump had called him Wednesday morning and wanted to thank the volunteers.
Karen Aroesty, St. Louis regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the show of support from Christians, Muslims and other religions has been “extraordinary” but not surprising.
“That’s always been true in this region,” Aroesty said. “When things happen, the interfaith community comes together.”
Aroesty said the Jewish community was reeling.
“The emotional impact on this community is something different than I’ve seen before, and it’s really striking,” she said. “It’s especially hard for those folks who have several generations at the cemetery.”
The University City Council released a statement saying the city “is and always has been a community of inclusion — the people of University City will not tolerate hateful and hurtful acts.”