This Sunday afternoon, tragic news from Overland Park, KS pierced the harried routine of last minute Passover preparations. At around 1 PM, a man in his 70s opened fire in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center and then outside a nearby assisted living facility, Village Shalom. Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood (Losena), 14, as well as an elderly woman, were killed. As the attacker was getting arrested, he shouted the words “Heil Hitler” to onlookers.
My heart raced as I heard the news. No, this can’t be real. The locations which were today transformed from settings of everyday life into crime scenes are familiar ones to me. This past summer, I had the privilege of spending a month in Overland Park with a group of eight other Yeshiva University students. We spent our time getting to know members of the community, running educational programs and gaining professional experience in our respective fields of study. I interned at Jewish Family Services, located on the JCC campus.
The residents of Overland Park have built a community of warmth (the most genuine kind I have ever encountered.) My experience there was marked by individuals: by the security guard who wouldn’t let me leave the building every day without a smile and a goodbye. By the boss who lent us his pickup truck without blinking an eye, exclaiming that he figured we’d need an extra set of wheels for the month. By the families who housed us, fed us and cared for us for nothing in return.
In Overland Park, hashkafa does not create boundaries as it often does- the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and general communities work together and communicate well. Background and externals matter far less than the content of one’s character.
It is very difficult to grapple with today’s dark, catastrophic event. It is no coincidence though, that in a mere 24 hours from now, Jews around the globe will sit at their Seder tables and utter the timeless words of Vehi Sheamda:
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵיֽנוּ וְלָנֽוּ. שֶׁלֹא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד, עָמַד עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ. אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, עוֹמְדִים עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ. וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם
And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.
Baseless hatred was a reality for the enslaved Jew in Egypt, and sometimes, it unfortunately still is today for the twenty-first Century Jew. No matter how many points on the timeline of our history have passed though, G-d remains by our side, as He has always been.
Tomorrow night, let’s honor the lives of those taken too early. We will retaliate not physically, but we will fight with our faith by celebrating freedom, a value the attacker will fail at stealing from us.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s friends and families, and to the community at large. May G-d send them much comfort in this hard time.
May this season of geula usher in the Ultimate Redemption, returning us all this year to Yerushalayim.
Have a chag kasher v’sameach.