Igniting a Heart of Compassion

This week the old Jewish cemetery in my hometown was vandalized. Almost 200 gravestones were crushed or knocked flat off their bases, many in the historic section dating back to the 1800's. My eldest brother Danny is buried there outside of St. Louis, as is my little cousin Menachem who died at seven. I have long imagined both their souls to be my spirit guides. It hurt my heart to think that their physical resting places had been trashed by blind hatred.

Since the First of 2017, 54 Jewish communities in the United States and Canada have received threats. This one was real. And it was also an unprecedented act in our country, which (let us remember) was founded upon religious freedom and tolerance. The photos of overturned graves sent shivers through me, reminders of Russian pogroms and Nazi horrors.

Apparently, I was not alone. Many others were also moved, and launched into action. I wept to learn that the Muslim community of St. Louis had banded together to raise funds to repair our old Jewish cemetery. Their original goal was $20,000, which was raised in three hours. By the end of the first day, they had gathered a staggering $90,000.

Their website, launchgood.com, said this:

“Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. We also extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.”

Who would know better, or share our pain more than members of the Muslim community, who themselves have endured a steady uptick of rancorous threats, public assaults, arson on their beloved holy sites, and hate filled verbal abuse? Hate crimes against Muslims in America now equal that of the period following 9/11. I bless these beautiful people with all my heart.

Do the Breitbart fellows who ride on Trump's coattails have any idea of the strength of the coalitions they are seeding? For example, on January 28—just hours after Trump signed his ill-fated executive order barring refugees from entering the US and restricting travel from seven Muslim countries—a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned to the ground. The rabbi of that community's synagogue went right over to the Imam and offered him his spare keys. Come and share our temple, he said. We have more than enough room. The arson of Victoria's mosque also grabbed international attention. Within 10 days, people around the world had donated more than $1.1 million to aid in its cleanup and rebuilding.

Although we are an exceedingly divided and morally challenged society, although our leadership is frighteningly untethered, although hatred has been unleashed in epidemic levels, it seems that moral red lines still exist. And when they are crossed, the heart of compassion is ignited.

Yesterday a bright red and white banner mysteriously appeared at the base of Lady Liberty welcoming refugees. Daily non-violent protests against Trump's immigration policy continue around the country. And every day, surprising acts of human decency prevail.

Tirzah Firestone