UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (KSDK) - After Tarek El-Messidi heard about the damage at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, a historic Jewish cemetery that was vandalized in February, he and a co-organizer from CelebrateMercy asked the Muslim community around the country for donations.
"The response was amazing," El-Messidi said. "Our goal was $20,000. We hit that goal in three hours and now we're at over $160,000."
El-Messidi flew all the way from Philadelphia to take a tour of the cemetery.
"It's just amazing to be here in person and see if for myself," he said.
Then, he signed a $40,000 check.
"It was surreal," he said, "I've never written so many zeros on a check before."
The money is covering the cost of headstones that have already been repaired and headstones that still need to be repaired. Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of Chesed Shel Emeth Society, says it means the world to families whose loved ones are buried there.
"When they call and they find out that their headstone was vandalized, they're worried about how they're going to take care of it and when I say don't worry it is taken care of, the relief that the families have is unbelievable," Feigenbaum said. "We feel blessed."
El-Messidi says the money could also go toward a future security upgrade at the cemetery. He says it could also help other Jewish cemeteries across the country, including one that recently was vandalized in his own backyard, Philadelphia.
"Muslim and Jewish Communities haven't typically worked closely together in the past so the silver lining in all of this is that Jews and Muslims are now starting to have this dialogue," El-Messidi said.