After the Kansas Jewish Community Shootings, "I am a Christian"
At one point during the life of Gandhi he was asked if he was a Hindu. He replied, “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”
Last week, we saw the horrible tragedy that befell the people of Kansas City, KS, when a gunman opened fire at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish senior center. As members of the Jewish community, we know that even here in America, where Jews are perhaps safer than anywhere else in the world, there is some risk to our safety.
While violent anti-Semitism is low in this country, we all know of the cases in which we have been vulnerable, such as the bombing of Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in 1958, the shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles in the late ‘90s, and the shooting at the Jewish Federation building in Seattle in 2006.
Last week, we once again heard the horrible news of an attack on the Jewish community. This attack saw the death of three individuals – two involved in a teen program at the JCC, and one at a senior center nearby.
When I first heard the story, I assumed the victims were Jewish and thought of the three souls who would not be having a Passover seder this year. But when the news was updated, I learned that it was, in fact, three Christians who died, and therefore it would be three souls who would not be celebrating Easter this year.
The woman visiting her mother at the senior center was Terri LaManno, who, with her family, was a lifelong member of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kansas City. The two individuals killed at the Jewish Community Center were 14-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood, an Eagle Scout who was at the JCC to try out for a part in a play, and his grandfather, Dr. William Corporan. Both were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.
An attack on American Jews is an attack on all Americans.
The alleged perpetrator of this crime is a lifelong hate-monger white nationalist and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He had a history of statements hostile to Jews and African-Americans and served time in federal prison for illegal weapons possession.
When the shootings took place, police, the FBI, and other government agencies put the full force of the US government behind the investigation into the attack on the Jewish community. I thought to myself, “Today all Americans are Jewish,” because when a terrorist attacks an institution in the American community, that terrorist is perpetrating an attack against all Americans. Because the Jewish community was the target, and I felt that it was all Americans who were being targeted, I therefore felt that all Americans could identify with the Jewish community that day.
But the victims of last week’s attack on the Jewish community were all Christian. In response to the attack, two national Christian organizations issued a joint statement. The statement, issued by the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) reads, in part:
Our hearts break for the families and friends of the three people murdered at a Jewish Community Center and senior home in Overland Park on Sunday. We lift them in prayer. We mourn with our Jewish brothers and sisters for this brutal assault on their community….We stand in solidarity with them in this tragic, frightening moment, particularly coming at the holy seasons for both Christians and Jews….
The fact that all three of the victims in Overland Park were Christian, including the son and great grandson of a beloved Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, underlines both the indiscriminant irrationality of such acts of hatred and the deep connection between our Jewish and Christian communities. That which harms either of us, harms both of us.
It is our prayer in this season of Passover and Easter that God will deliver us from the slavery of anti-Semitism and from hatreds of all kinds, that life may triumph over death and we all may know the glorious joy of freedom.
When asked if he was a Hindu, Gandhi declared, “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”
When the shootings occurred, I thought I was going to be declaring that, as Americans, we are all Jews. But thinking of the loss of three Christians in the attack on the Jewish community, on the weekend that precedes the holiest day on the Christian calendar, I stood before my congregation on Shabbat and declared: “Today, I declare, that I, too, am a Christian. And a Buddhist. And a Muslim. And a Hindu. And a Jew. And an American.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Kurtz-Lendner is the rabbi of Temple Solel of Hollywood, FL. During Hurricane Katrina, he was the rabbi of Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville, LA, just outside of New Orleans. He services on the Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council to Florida Governor Rick Scott and is on the board of SEACCAR, the Southeast Region of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.