Shay Khatiri first heard about the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue from a friend. Mr Khatiri, who had been crashing on his Jewish friend’s couch for several months, woke up to see his friend visibly shaken from the tragic news and wanted to do something.
The 29-year-old initially thought about making a small donation. But he wanted to see if he could make more of an impact. So, he decided to set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $50,000 for the mass shooting victims and their families.
“I thought about [making] a small donation, and then I thought it’d be better if I start this campaign,” Mr Khatiri told The Independent. “If it didn’t, and worse came to worst, [the crowdfunding page] would be a few hundred dollars, and it would be better than nothing.”
In less than 24 hours, the crowdfunding campaign raised nearly $300,000. Since then, the GoFundMe page raised over $660,000 from nearly 12,000 people in two days.
The page has been so successful in soliciting donations for the victims that Mr Khatiri upped the fundraising goal once again to $1m.
GoFundMe certified the charity fundraising campaign. This means that although Mr Khatiri organised the fundraising campaign, he would not be able to access or disperse the donations. Through their partnership with PayPal Giving Fund, GoFundMe will be sending all the funds directly to the Tree of Life congregation.
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Mr Khatiri is not the only one raising funds for the Pittsburgh synagogue. CelebrateMercy and MPowerChange, both Muslim non-profit organisations, collaborated with Muslim-focused crowdfunding site LaunchGood to raise $136,000 for the victims.
Mr Khatiri is an immigrant. He said he “was born an American in the wrong place”, as he left Iran—his birth country—when he was 22-year-old. After living in Hungary for 18 months, the 29-year-old moved to the United States in May 2014. Right now, he is staying in Washington DC and pursuing a Master’s Degree at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
The synagogue shooting spoke to him emotionally, because he heard many of the horrific stories firsthand from Holocaust survivors and knew many Jewish people he considered his closest friends.
“My best friends are Jewish and so are almost all of my mentors,” Mr Khatiri added. “I have been on the receiving end of Jewish generosity, and I have always wanted to be an advocate for the Jewish people to make up for what the Iranian government is trying to do,” he added, referring to Iran’s criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for refusing to recognise the Middle Eastern country as a “Jewish state”.
The Anti-Defamation League conducted a poll in 2014 that found Iranians to be the “least anti-semitic” in the Middle East.
But unfortunately, antisemitism still exists in the world and it is rampant. Mr Khatiri said that while he did notice some instances of anti-semitism back in Iran, he has seen “a lot of it” when he lived in Europe.
That, however, could all change if communities continue to come together. Mr Khatiri believes small steps could cross that bridge of racial tension seen in this country and across different communities.
“These are the first steps,” Mr Khatiri added. “[Hopefully], not the last ones.”