Islamic Nonprofit Raises Money for Jewish Cemeteries, Can’t Find a Taker

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Tarek El-Messidi (left) examines a headstone in Colorado. | Photo provided

Contrary to published reports, Islamic nonprofit organization Celebrate Mercy has every intention of fulfilling its $100,000 financial pledge to help restore the Jewish Golden Hill Cemetery in Lakewood, Colo., according to founding director and Philadelphia resident Tarek El-Messidi.

El-Messidi, whose earlier offer to help restore the vandalized portions of the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wissinoming was found to be unnecessary, said he’s awaiting a detailed proposal from Golden Hill Executive Director Neal Price before determining how best to disburse the funds. That cemetery has fallen into disrepair.

Of his more-local idea, hatched after about 100 headstones were found toppled at Mount Carmel, El-Messidi said Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told him the offer was appreciated but not needed.

“We raised a great deal of money,” Adler said. “I thanked him for his offer, but at the time of his offer, we’d already raised enough money for the restoration plan we had in place so I suggested he work to find another place where this donation could be used. But we greatly appreciated his offer.”

So does Price, who due to a series of miscommunication attempts coupled with other pressures, told The Algemeiner on July 11 he no longer expected Celebrate Mercy to fulfill its promised commitment. Since then he’s spoken with El-Messidi, who was out of the country much of that time as well as unavailable during the Ramadan fasting period.

“Tarek El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy and I first had a chance to speak on Tuesday, July 18,” Price said in a statement. “He expressed his desire to assist with the restoration of ‘The Hill’ section of Golden Hill Cemetery.

“‘The Hill’ is the final resting place of approximately 800 Jews, most of whom died of tuberculosis, and most were destitute when they died. Mr. El-Messidi also expressed interest in making a second visit to Denver soon to meet with our board for further discussions.”

After reading an account of the issues Golden Hill was facing, El-Messidi visited the grounds in April. Since then, while Celebrate Mercy has raised the money it promised, he conceded that none of it has been paid out.

“It’s accurate we haven’t donated money yet,” said El-Messidi, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., who’s been living in Philadelphia the past year. “Since then, they were supposed to send a detailed proposal, which we haven’t received yet.

“That’s a large sum of money to request. They insinuated we were pocketing the money. But we have all the funds and are 100 percent committed to giving it for the restoration of Jewish cemeteries.

“We’re really excited about helping out Golden Hill. It’s going to be a beautiful gesture to see the Muslim community help restore a Jewish site.”

Vandalism at Mount Carmel Cemetery. | Photo provided

As for concerns within the Jewish community that Celebrate Mercy is aligned with Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, El-Messidi insists that relationship does not factor into this.

“I’m a friend, but we’ve never sat down and talked about her positions on BDS and that stuff,” El-Messidi said, referencing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, of which Sarsour is a prominent backer. “It’s unfortunate people would make that assumption. From the very beginning, we wanted this campaign to be apolitical: human beings helping other human beings.

“So I’m hoping we can steer away from any politicization of this and focus more on the humanity of this gesture and helping the Jewish community fight against bigotry and anti-Semitism by restoring these cemeteries and respecting the dead buried there.”

On Celebrate Mercy’s Facebook page is a detailed breakdown of the organization’s efforts, saying it has raised $162,000 from 4,858 donors. It explains how the original goal of raising $20,000 for the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis was well exceeded, with $40,000 eventually being donated.

Besides that, Celebrate Mercy gave $5,000 each to the Chicago Loop Synagogue and Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y.

“Over the next few months we intend to disburse all remaining funds to help other vandalized Jewish cemeteries and centers nationwide,” Celebrate Mercy posted on July 12. “We are overwhelmed with the support we’ve received from people of all faiths. Inspired by our faith and shared humanity, Muslims will stand firmly with our Jewish cousins to fight hate with humanity.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729

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