Jews rally to support burned Florida mosque, $18 at a time

Medals at the 2009 Maccabiah games feature the Hebrew chai symbol, with slogan “עם ישראל חי” (Am Israel Chai). Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/BAWSWIM

(RNS) After a Florida mosque was torched in an arson attack, a local Muslim noticed something odd about donations made to a repair fund he launched.

Instead of the round numbers Adeel Karim expected —$25, $50, $100 or more —the donations were in multiples of $18 — $36, $72, $90 and more.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause,” Karim wrote in a Facebook post Monday (Feb. 27).

“Then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Goldstein, Rubin, Fisher …. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai.’ It wishes the recipient a long life.”

A Seder painted glass plate, with figures making the Hebrew chai symbol, in the window of a venue catering to Jewish tourists in the former ghetto in Venice, Italy, on Aug. 1, 2008. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Giovanni Dall’Orto

Specifically, each Hebrew letter has a numerical value; the letter “chet” equals 8 and “yod” equals 10. Together they form the Hebrew word “chai,” which has a numerical value of 18 and means “life.”

Karim’s local mosque, the Islamic Society of New Tampa, which had its exterior damaged by an arsonist on Feb. 24, is the latest beneficiary of a new wave of interfaith support between Jews and Muslims since the inauguration of President Trump.

Other instances of interfaith support include:

  • When vandals damaged headstones in a Missouri Jewish cemetery last month, Muslim activists raised more than $125,000 to fund repairs.
  • When a Victoria, Texas, mosque was razed by vandals in late January, members of a local Jewish congregation allowed the displaced Muslim worshippers to worship in their synagogue.
  • And when vandals toppled more than 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, Muslims and others traveled from other states to repair them.
  • The Muslim Student Associations of Florida State and Florida A&M universities delivered bouquets of flowers to campus Jewish organizations and local synagogues in a show of solidarity after the two cemetery attacks.
  • Muslim veterans have offered to help guard Jewish sites.
  • Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-Semitism watchdog group, received a standing ovation when he said at a conference that if U.S. Muslims were forced to register with the government, he would register as a Muslim, too.

“All of us have heard the story of the Danish king who said if his country’s Jews had to wear a gold star,” Greenblatt told The New York Times, “all of Denmark would, too.”

As in those incidents, fundraising efforts to repair the damage at the Tampa mosque quickly exceeded their $40,000 goal; as of Thursday morning, $71,000 had been raised.



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