Iranian Refugee Raises Over $1 Million for Tree of Life

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Funeral for Tree of Life Congregation mass shooting victims Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal was held at Rodef Shalom Congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Brendan Smialowsky / AFP / Getty Images)
Funeral for Tree of Life congregation mass shooting victims Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal was held at Rodef Shalom congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Brendan Smialowsky / AFP / Getty Images)

Within one week of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, 29-year-old Iranian political refugee Shay Khatiri raised over one million dollars for the Tree of Life community. Clarion Project’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi sat down with Khatiri to discuss how he launched such a widely successful campaign.



Clarion: Shay, you’re a 29-year-old political refugee. How did you pull off raising over a million dollars in less than a week?

Khatiri: I just started a GoFundMe page and shared it on social media, and it grew from there. It was not something special that I did. It was just the right idea at the right time, and people responded positively.

Clarion: Did you find any one sort of group pushed the GoFundMe page above any others?Linda Sarsour’s organization, with all her clout and public persona, the last time I checked were at $200,000 this week. So you’ve surpassed some of the really big names out there in community activism. What stood out for you as you were sharing this and getting feedback from people?

Khatiri: I think part of what helped was that it was shared on GoFundMe and GoFundMe is itself very good and professional in promoting fundraisers. Also Jake Tapper tweeted it, and something that Jake Tapper tweets receives a lot of attention. And then thereafter, a lot of  people with mass followers, for example, a lot of blue check mark people on Twitter and Facebook tweeted it.

Clarion: The Tree of Life synagogue shooting affected all of us, all of America. But not all of us were moved to action. You’re an Iranian refugee, you’re not Muslim and you’re secular — how was this different for you? Why act on this?

Khatiri: I just wanted to do something positive. The idea came to my mind and it was something — to put it in business terms — very low risk. So I had nothing to lose by doing it, and I just had the idea. I really cared about what happened because I’ve always been very close to the Jewish community inside the U.S. even before I moved here. When I was in Hungary, I had a lot of Israeli friends and they made a lot of positive impact on my life. My favorite professors in college and now graduate school are Jewish; my mentors are Jewish. I think that’s what really inspired me to help.

Clarion: Shay, I’ve been a little critical of folks just raising money. Not in your case, but in the case of say, Linda Sarsour, who has a large platform, and other folks who are community activists and have a bigger platform than you and I combined.

What I’ve been saying is that it’s not enough to just raise money, that we have to counter anti-Semitism and flat out Jew hatred every single time.

As someone who has a Muslim background myself and as someone such as yourself who’s familiar with the anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, what are your thoughts on Muslims being able to do more to counter anti-Semitism — whether it’s in the mosques, whether it’s in our communities? Does that matter, and is that what we need to do at this point moving forward?

Khatiri: It definitely needs to be done. I personally am a supporter of Israel, but I understand that a lot of people in our communities are not. For those who are not, they need to make a distinction between the politics of a country and its people. They need to remember that if people are associated with the politics of their own country, or their country of origin, most of us here would not be very welcomed because we’re coming from countries that make a lot of trouble — myself included. I come from Iran, and I don’t want to be associated with all the atrocities perpetrated by the Iranian government. If you don’t like something that Israel does, you should not be connecting that to the Jewish people.

Beyond that, I think we need to break the wall and just engage with the Jewish community, because you can hate someone from a distance, but as soon as you meet them on a personal level, it will be very hard not to see the humanity in them.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.