Iranian refugee raises $700,000 for Pittsburgh synagogue

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Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

An Iranian refugee who gained political asylum in the United States has raised over $700,000 for the synagogue in Pittsburgh where a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers this weekend.

The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshippers this weekend. / Reuters

Shay Khatiri, 29, told media on October 30 that after the anti-Semitic rampage, he started an online fundraiser to collect donations for the Tree of Life Congregation that worships at the synagogue in Pennsylvania.

He said he had raised over $700,000 from more than 4,800 donors, far exceeding his expectations, by late on October 29. That has led him to raise his fundraising goal from his initial target of only $500 to $1 million.

“I thought to myself, ‘Worst comes to worst, it will raise like $500.’ Which is better than nothing, but it’s a little above that now,” he told the Washington, D.C., television station WJLA.

WJLA said Khatiri came to the United States as a refugee and applied for political asylum. He is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Baltimore.

He identifies himself as a deist, someone who believes in God but does not follow any established religion. He said he has been a recipient of the American Jewish community’s generosity and wanted to repay the kindness.

Khatiri said he was inspired to raise money after seeing a Jewish friend’s reaction to the shooting.

“She told me what happened and she was just broken,” he told CNN. “Seeing how upset she was, I wanted to donate to the congregation.”

Khatiri said that seeing the donations flood in online had convinced him that Americans can still unite behind a cause in the wake of such tragedies.

“Everyone talks about how divided we are,” he told CNN. “But in such a tragic moment, Americans are always powerful and indivisible in trauma.”

Khatiri’s effort came as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered condolences for survivors of the mass shooting and wrote on Twitter, “Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion and must be condemned in all cases.”

Meanwhile, CNN reported that a separate crowdfunding campaign called Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue has raised more than $180,000 for survivors and families of the mass shooting.

“We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action,” the group’s donation page says.