UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. – A suburban St. Louis Jewish cemetery badly damaged by vandals is getting a show of support from cleanup volunteers, well-wishers and financial contributors from across many faiths.
Muslim groups have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, Missouri, with a goal of $20,000. It has raised nearly $75,000.
The cemetery posted on Facebook that 154 headstones were vandalized in the damage discovered Monday. Many were tipped over. Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, organized a volunteer effort to help in the cleanup Wednesday, and an interfaith service was planned for the afternoon. A large crowd attended a candlelight vigil at the cemetery Tuesday night.
Investigators have been reviewing surveillance video to determine who was responsible. The Anti-Defamation League offered a $10,000 reward for the vandals' arrest and conviction. Police said there is no evidence of a hate crime, but haven't ruled out the possibility.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking to small business owners at a business Wednesday in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton, Missouri, condemned "this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrate it in the strongest possible terms." But he lauded people from across Missouri who have "rallied with compassion and support."
MO's people are inspiring the nation w/ their compassion for the Jewish community. Thank you for showing the world what America is all about pic.twitter.com/PWTFLGqqz0— Vice President Pence (@VP) February 22, 2017
"You have inspired this nation," Pence said, not long before making unannounced visit to the cemetery. With Greitens by his side, Pence told volunteers, many of them clutching yard rakes they used to beautify the graveyard, that "there's no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism."
"I must tell you the people in Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri," he told the crowd, using a bullhorn. "And I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is all about."
Greitens later told reporters at the cemetery that President Donald Trump had called him Wednesday morning and wanted to thank the volunteers.
Karen Aroesty, St. Louis regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the show of support from Christians, Muslims and other religions has been "extraordinary" but not surprising.
"That's always been true in this region," Aroesty said. "When things happen, the interfaith community comes together."
Aroesty said the Jewish community was reeling.
"The emotional impact on this community is something different than I've seen before, and it's really striking," she said. "It's especially hard for those folks who have several generations at the cemetery."
Rosenbloom Monument Co. workers volunteered to put the toppled headstones back in place and by late Wednesday morning all but a few were restored.
Rosenbloom Monument owner Phil Weiss said eight to 10 headstones were broken, all of them made of marble. Most of the others were made of granite and sustained little or no damage, he said.
"Granite is pretty tough," Weiss said.
The University City Council released a statement saying the city "is and always has been a community of inclusion— the people of University City will not tolerate hateful and hurtful acts."