Back in August, we addressed the story of a man named Omar Rivera who had allegedly, by initial accounts, urinated in the Al-Iman mosque in Astoria, Queens, in a possible hate crime. Later, some local news channels and the police altered the story to say the man had urinated outside the mosque, and that it was not a hate crime at all. Meanwhile, a rabbinical student named Rachel Barenblat had taken up a collection for new prayer rugs to replace those destroyed by the event — an event which some said hadn’t occurred. And the mosque accepted her gift. Something didn’t add up.
After a visit to the mosque last week, we’ve learned that the $1,185 donation by Barenblat for a new prayer rug was received and that the new rug has been installed.
We also got in touch with Barenblat, who told the Voice she’d spoken with her contact at Al-Iman, who informed her that Rivera did urinate on the rug inside the entrance to the mosque. Barenblat’s contact, who asked to go unnamed, said that while the entryway is not used for praying on a daily basis, it is used for praying on Fridays and holidays when the mosque is at full capacity inside.
“Even if the scope of the damage isn’t as great as was initially reported — meaning if Mr. Rivera urinated on the rug in the entryway which is only sometimes used for prayer instead of urinating on all of the prayer rugs — I still think the gesture of making the donation was worthwhile,” Barenblat said.
So it seems the matter boils down to whether the entryway is considered “inside” or “outside” the mosque. During our visit, we were shown the spot where Rivera urinated, on a rug in the right-hand corner of the entryway — definitely on the inside side of the door. This, of course, conflicts with the police report that identifies Rivera as having peed outside.
We’ve contacted the NYPD for comment multiple times but have yet to receive a response. We’ll update when we do.
Al-Iman officials informed the Voice that they would be sending Barenblat a letter (“on official letterhead”) detailing how they spent the money in addition to thanking her for the donation. They declined further comment.
Despite all the confusion, Barenblat offered one final caveat: “I’ve heard from Muslims around the world who appreciate this opening of American hearts and pocketbooks, and I’ve also heard from Muslims who are particularly moved that the fund-raising was organized by a Jew and a future rabbi. If this small gesture opens the possibility of greater goodwill between our communities, then it’s worth it.”