Aiden PinkNovember 25, 2018
CelebrateMercy is a small Muslim not-for-profit with only three full-time staffers, but in the past year and a half, it has created crowdfunding campaigns that have raised $400,000 for Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and a Holocaust memorial.
The campaigns started in February 2017, after more than 100 headstones were overturned at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis amid a nationwide spike in anti-Jewish hate crime. Within months, though, a Jewish politician in New York City, Dov Hikind, started asking whether the money was really going to its purported beneficiaries. He implied that the campaign was suspect because Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist who supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, was helping to lead it.
Most of the money — from that first campaign and a second one inspired by the massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue — has been distributed, the Forward has determined by speaking with CelebrateMercy founding director Tarek El-Messidi, as well as Jewish leaders who have been working with him. The rest is still available because of the complicated nature of disbursing and spending large chunks of money, but El-Messidi has plans for it.
“It’s almost like you’re applying for a grant. You don’t give out that money within a week,” El-Messidi said. “Unfortunately, it turned political. People were trying to question her integrity, our integrity, in terms of, ‘Are you pocketing the funds?’ No, we’re trying to be careful and make sure it’s going to deserving causes without handing it out right away.”
Hikind did not respond to a request for comment.
The first project reached its $20,000 goal in less than five hours and eventually raised $162,468.