1. News

Jewish donors boost fundraising effort after Thonotosassa mosque arson

Someone set a fire outside the entrance to the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Thonotasassa on Feb. 24. An online fundraising effort to finance repairs has gathered more than $70,000, largely with the help of Jewish donors. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times
Someone set a fire outside the entrance to the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Thonotasassa on Feb. 24. An online fundraising effort to finance repairs has gathered more than $70,000, largely with the help of Jewish donors. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times ]
Published Mar. 3, 2017

THONOTOSASSA — Scanning through the dollar amounts, feeling thankful for the generosity of strangers, Adeel Karim spotted a pattern.

The 36-year-old New Tampa jeweler had set up a campaign on LaunchGood, a crowd funding site focused on the Muslim community, on the same day authorities confirmed that a fire at the Daarus Salaam Mosque had been deliberately set. A member of the mosque since it opened in 2012, Karim realized the donations were coming in multiples of $18 and the donor surnames were Jewish.

A quick Google search turned up the Hebrew word for life — "chai" (the "c" is silent and the "h" is guttural). The letters of the word add up to 18 — letters are assigned number values in Hebrew — so Jews often give gifts and donations in multiples of 18. This is called "giving chai."

BACK STORY: Worshippers relocate after arson fire damages mosque

It dawned on Karim that hundreds of Jewish donors had helped smash his $40,000 fundraising goal. By midday Thursday, more than 1,800 supporters had donated $72,000. Karim estimates more than 1,000 are Jewish.

"It's awesome," he said. "They were not only donating, but donating with a clear message."

The interfaith outpouring of support comes amid other examples of Jews and Muslims coming to one another's aid in the wake of suspected hate crimes in recent months.

Muslim volunteers have donated money and helped with repairs after vandals toppled scores of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis. A LaunchGood campaign for the two cemeteries had raised more than $155,000 by Thursday. U.S. Muslim military veterans have offered to guard cemeteries.

Last week's fire at Daarus Salaam comes about seven months after a string of fires broke out at Tampa-area mosques in July and August. Out of the five reported, two were ruled arson.

In the immediate aftermath of Election Day, a wave of hate crimes and lesser hate incidents swept the country — 1,094 bias incidents in the first 34 days, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. There have been more than 100 bomb threats made to Jewish community centers since January.

Members of the two religions say they are forging new bonds in the wake of what they see as attacks on their faith and increasing intolerance fomented by a divisive presidential election.

"I think these despicable acts are bringing us together in ways that are going to last much longer, which is really a wonderful silver lining to this," said Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, whose members have prayed with Daarus Salaam and shared and donated to the fundraising campaign.

"We're seeing a new tidal wave of solidarity, which honestly we haven't seen in a long time," Karim said. "It gives a lot of people a lot of hope."

Karim and fellow members of the Daarus Saalam mosque needed some hope after learning someone had apparently tried to set their house of worship ablaze.

Firefighters were called to the Daarus Salaam Mosque shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 24 and discovered a small fire burning just outside one of the entrances of the ornate, terracotta and beige building at 15830 Morris Bridge Road.

The fire damaged a glass door and part of the facade. Radiant heat triggered sprinklers inside the building. Some smoke seeped into the building but most of the damage resulted from the water, Karim said.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Corey Dierdorff said the arson remained under investigation Thursday.

Karim, who is not on the mosque board, set the $40,000 fundraising goal later that day not knowing what the damage might cost or what insurance would cover. Several cameras peer down from the building, which sits on about six acres north of Cross Creek Boulevard, but Karim figured the money could also help improve security there. He also intended to put some of the money toward a reward for information leading to an arrest.

But after seeing what was happening in other parts of the country, Karim also had a hunch that the fundraising effort would lead to new connections in the community. It had pained the father of two young children to try to explain why someone would set fire to their sacred place. He wanted to show them how good and kind people could be.

He titled the page, "Stand With New Tampa Muslims Against Hate." Now the contributions continue to pile up, and his phone is buzzing with calls from supporters offering to help.

"When something like this fire happens, you just kind of slump over. You're hurt," he said. "Then something like this happens and it's like somebody comes over and grabs you by the shoulders and straightens you and says, hey, we've got your back."

Karim said board members were still working with insurance adjusters and contractors to determine the cost for repairs and how much insurance will. A mosque board member could not be reached for comment.

Rosenberg of Beth Am said the fire has strengthened a nascent bond with Daarus Salaam that began two weeks before the fire, when he reached out to members as a show of support amid a growing sense of hostility toward Muslims. The rabbi and other synagogue members visited the mosque and joined worshippers in prayer.

After the fire, Rosenberg saw a Facebook post about the LaunchGood campaign and shared it with his Facebook friends.

"Rather than just react in anger, a lot of people decided they were going to react in love and friendship," Rosenberg said. "We realize how good it feels to stand together in solidarity and respond to hatred with love."

Contact Tony Marrero at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.