A Muslim-American group in the U.S. helped raise more than $77,000 in a single day to help a historic Jewish cemetery in Missouri repair hundreds of gravesites desecrated in what is being condemned as an apparent act of anti-Semitism.
The overwhelming support has brought some comfort to those whose relatives are buried at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, where more than 150 tombstones were toppled and damaged this week.
“To me, that outpouring is love,” said Barbara Perle, whose grandparents and great-grandparents are among her relatives buried at the site. “In my heart, love heals.”
Perle, 66, who now lives in California, said she “felt heartbroken” when she learned of the vandalism in her hometown. She said she has not been able to find out whether her relatives’ sites were disturbed because the cemetery’s phone line has been inundated with calls.
Regardless, she said such a hateful act still directly affects her. “This desecration is a devastating thing to happen to anybody’s family,” she told TIME on Wednesday. “It was particularly devastating for me personally. These are beloved family members.”
Perle and others who have loved ones buried at the cemetery say they’re deeply touched by the online fundraiser, organized by two Muslim-Americans, which has been collecting an average of $1,000 every 20 minutes.
The donation page was started by Muslim advocate Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, who also founded CelebrateMercy, a nonprofit that teaches about Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.
“We just want to send a message that whatever haters and extremists try to destroy, we will rebuild,” El-Messidi, 36, told TIME. “Seeing this happen was just disgusting. It shows that when you put all the politics aside, we share humanity together. We want everyone to live in peace and we want everyone to rest in peace.”
Andy Ulrich, whose grandparents are also buried at the cemetery, called the vandalism a “day of darkness” and said the collaboration between Jews and Muslims, who are often presented in opposition, sheds light on a message of unity.
“I always say it takes something horrible to bring out the best in Americans,” he said. “I think that there’s more similarity in people than differences.”