Iranian refugee raises money for Pittsburgh synagogue

Refugee from Iran raises over $600,000 for the Tree of Life Synagogue following Shabbat massacre.

Ben Ariel and JTA,

Scene of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
Scene of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
Alexi Rosenfeld

A refugee from Iran has raised over $600,000 for the Pittsburgh synagogue where a gunman killed 11 people on Saturday, JTA reports.

Shay Khatiri, 29, started an online fundraiser to collect donations for the Tree of Life synagogue on Sunday. As of Monday afternoon, according to JTA, he had raised over $640,000, far exceeding his expectations.

“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 was quoted as having told the Washington DC-based WJLA television.

Khatiri is a political refugee from Iran and a currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, according to WJLA.

He told CNN an interview was inspired to raise money when seeing a Jewish friend’s reaction to the shooting.

“She told me what happened and she was just broken. Seeing how upset she was, I wanted to donate to the congregation,” said Khatiri, adding that seeing the donations come in has inspired him.

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

Meanwhile, a separate crowdfunding campaign by two Muslim American groups raised, as of Sunday, almost $80,000 for the surviving victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the relatives of the 11 killed.

The campaign on LaunchGood reached its initial goal of $25,000 within six hours, its second goal of $50,000 after a day, and is now targeting $100,000.

The campaign was organized by CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, Muslim-American non-profits. The funds will be distributed by the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Investigators are treating the mass-shooting as a hate crime, and confirmed Sunday that the shooter, Robert Bowers, had made anti-Semitic statements and expressed a desire to massacre Jews during the 20-minute shooting attack.

On Sunday, federal prosecutors said they would be seeking approval from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pursue the death penalty against Bowers.

Sessions, who has not said whether he will approve the request, told a crowd in Boston on Monday that Bowers will “be subjected to the death penalty, perhaps.”