This past Shabbat in synagogue, we found ourselves in a communal conversation about the extent to which we feel both empowered and vulnerable as Jews. There are times when we look at our position in the world and feel as if being Jewish is a great privilege, and that our role is to act in a universal way, sharing our resources for the good of all. And then there are times, perhaps this evening, when we take in the unique arc of Jewish history and call to mind the obligation to support our ever precarious Jewish existence.
The tragic shooting at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City touches both of these parts of the Jewish soul. Our foremost thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed, injured or otherwise traumatized by the attack. As of this letter, we know that Mindy Corporon lost her father, Dr. William Corporon, and her son, 14-year-old Reat Underwood. They were members of their local Episcopal church. While we know that the alleged gunman has been a white supremacist leader, investigators have not yet concluded whether this attack was a hate crime. Nevertheless, may feel uniquely exposed as Jews and be afraid to demonstrate our Jewish belonging publicly. Additionally, as a number of Facebook posts demonstrate, we may feel a corresponding desire for retribution.
While these feelings are certainly understandable, I would encourage us to consider the inherent strengths of our community as a foundation for our ongoing work as Jews. The JCC where this tragedy took place is part of a national network that serves the entire community with a variety of direct service programs. At the time of the attack in the parking lot of the JCC, children were inside rehearsing a production of To Kill a Mockingbird, a well loved story highlighting the evils of racism and the quiet dignity of human beings. To be Jewish is not only to continue the chain of Jewish tradition for the Jews, but to serve all of humanity through our unique historical experience and moral and spiritual perspective.
In the midst of this tragedy, we may find some hope in the reality that the Jewish community does not stand alone. National Muslim and Sikh organizations have expressed their solidarity with the Kansas City Jewish community. In addition, the media response conveys the sense that a shooting at a Jewish institution highlights the vulnerability of all minority groups.
I believe that this inestimably tragic event reminds us that we as Jews have the obligation to be engaged with the suffering of this world. The nature of yesterday’s crime only highlights the plague of gun violence in this country, with the majority of incidents taking place in urban communities, with little public outcry. We should not forget that a shooting in 1999 at the JCC is Grenada Hills, California prompted a national effort to pass the Brady Bill for more restrictive gun laws. Personally, I am very proud of the work our Tikkun Olam committee has done to make us aware of gun violence, and yesterday’s tragedy reminds us we need to do more.
Of course, Pesach begins this evening, and I hope each of us has a place to go for a joyous and meaningful seder. In that spirit, the Rabbinical Assembly has reminded us how the rituals of dipping in salt water and spilling drops of wine may take on new significance tonight. In addition, I invite us to remember that Yetziat Mitrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is viewed by our tradition not as a one time event, but an ongoing process. In the Haggadah, Rabban Gamliel reminds us that we are to see ourselves as if we ourselves came out of Egypt. And so, as long as we identify with this story personally, it is still unfolding through our lives and actions. In this spirit, may our celebrations this evening help us to see and experience the great beauty and depth of our collective experience as Jews, as well as marshal the inspiration and wisdom from our tradition to be a source of healing.
Wishing everyone a joyous and meaningful Pesach,
Rabbi Justin David