On Oct. 27, Americans were again traumatized by another senseless mass shooting, this time during Sabbath morning worship at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The list of mass gun violence locations in the United States seems to be never-ending. Newtown, Conn.; Orlando; San Bernardino, Calif.; Las Vegas; and now Pittsburgh. Many Americans cannot keep up with the names and places. We've sadly come to accept that it is just a matter of time until we hear news of yet another mass shooter in America.
At such terrible times, it is hard to find the good, but it is also difficult to miss it when it happens. The actions in Pittsburgh by the Muslim community highlight the good that came amid a tragic event. Both the Pittsburgh Islamic Community's executive director, Wasi Mohamed, and the founder of the Muslim group Celebrate Mercy, Tarek el Messidi, stepped forward in a big way, not with words alone but with action.
Messidi's organization started an online campaign to raise $25,000 to help the victims. The fund exceeded this goal within six hours. It increased the goal to $50,000 and again exceeded the goal. Thus far, Celebrate Mercy has raised more $100,000 to help the victims of the shooting. Messidi led two very visible campaigns in the last two years following mass desecration and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia to help in the cleanup and repair of the graves.
Mohamed spoke publicly in Pittsburgh offering the services of his members to help guard the synagogue, provide food for the families of victims, go shopping for them — anything they needed to get through the crisis.
It comes as a surprise to many that there is cooperation between Muslims and Jews in America. While the examples are not lengthy, I have personally been a witness to the role Jews played in past years in Philadelphia and other places when Muslims purchased land in order to build a mosque and neighbors objected, citing "concerns of having a mosque in their neighborhood." If there was any group of people that stood arm and arm with Muslims in those situations, it was quite often Jews, who never forgot the many years in 20th century America where it was the Jews who were prevented from buying land for synagogues or from entering certain universities, becoming victims of bias by law firms or private clubs that refused admittance to would-be Jewish members.
The fact that Americans did not expect these acts of kindness to come from Celebrate Mercy and the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh shows how stereotypes about Muslims and their attitudes toward Jews have come to lower our expectations. The fact that these acts happened is proof that those stereotypes are wrong.
The humanity displayed by Muslims in Pittsburgh brings to the fore the tolerant face of Islam often overshadowed by radical and bigoted interpretations of the faith.
Now there is hope that these type of efforts at mutual respect and cooperation could continue to help bridge the divide that has so often come between the two communities based on old and new prejudice, and on the inescapable ramifications of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with all its violence and bloodshed.
Good will between Jews and Muslims can only pave the way for peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Jerry Sorkin, based in Philadelphia, is the founder and president of Iconic Journeys Worldwide. He also serves as the honorary consul for the Republic of Tunisia representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.