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Florida Jewish Community Rallies Help After Mosque Fire

By Qunicy Walters, For NPR, On 06 March 2017, Read Original
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After a fire at a mosque in Tampa, Fla., members of the Jewish community have stepped up to help rebuild the mosque.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to turn to Florida where authorities are still searching for the person or the people who set fire to a mosque in Tampa last month. It's one of three mosque fires across the country in the span of a few weeks that investigators have labeled arson. But amid that depressing news, a glimmer of something better - donations to repair the mosque in Tampa have been overwhelming and a lot of them have come from Jewish residents there. Quincy Walters of member station WUSF reports.

QUINCY WALTERS, BYLINE: Most of the damage was not from the fire, but from water. Workers were installing new equipment inside the mosque of the Islamic Society of New Tampa. Shafqat Farooqi was watching and, in a whisper, pointed out everything that needed fixing.

SHAFQAT FAROOQI: So this carpet was all damaged because the water. And we have a audio system and a camera system over there which was also damaged because of the water. And the door is destroyed, and there's a fire outside the door.

WALTERS: After the arson, Adeel Karim, who attends the mosque, set up a crowdfunding page to raise $40,000 for repairs and to hire security. It didn't take long before they far exceeded the goal. When donations began coming in, Karim noticed a trend.

ADEEL KARIM: You start to see 18, 36. You'll see 180. You know, you'd click on their name, and it'd be, like, you know, Bernstein and Cohen and...

WALTERS: One of those names was Johanna Cohen from New Jersey.

JOHANNA COHEN: I don't know. It's really something that's so second nature it didn't occur to me that it was weird.

WALTERS: Cohen says members of the Jewish community began talking about what happened on social media. She felt moved to contribute after Muslims donated last month to help the vandalized Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia. Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa says there's a theological explanation in Hebrew for the donations given in increments of 18.

JASON ROSENBERG: The number 18 is the value you get for the word chai, which means life. My guess is, for most, it was just a natural act to do it in 18 because it was a loving act of life affirming.

WALTERS: When Karim noticed that, he says his thoughts about the arson changed.

KARIM: When that struck me, I sort of sat down and said, wow, not only are they donating, they're donating with a purpose. There's a light at the end of the tunnel.

WALTERS: Rabbi Rosenberg and his congregation are getting ready for the Jewish holiday Purim, a time to celebrate Jews stopping a plot to destroy them. He says there's a parallel here. He believes there will be a day when Muslims and Jews commemorate foiled plots to diminish their faiths.

ROSENBERG: And I'd like to think that long after these vandals and petty arsonists are gone, we're still going to be here and we're going be laughing about them.

WALTERS: The rabbi says the people trying to terrorize the Jewish and Muslim communities are only succeeding in bringing the two together. For NPR News, I'm Quincy Walters in Tampa.

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