Monday, April 14, 2014

This Year in Kansas City

Yesterday's murder of three innocents at Jewish centers in Overland Park, Kansas, truly hits home. I spent many of my formative years at the St. Louis JCCA–first on the swim team, then as a swim instructor, lifeguard, camper and counselor–and I am certain the Kansas Jewish Community Center is much the same, attracting people of all faiths and backgrounds to its fine facilities and programs.

This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen in the quiet suburbs, and yet a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of anti-Semitism and racism was able to get a gun and randomly mow down a doctor and his 14-year-old grandson in the JCC parking lot before heading for a retirement village, where he shot and killed a woman. Both of the JCC victims were members of the nearby United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

As news of the tragedy got out, my Facebook feed became a hotbed of debate–some feel anti-Semitism is on the rise in this country, while others continue to believe this is the best time and place for Jews since the diaspora. I am in the latter camp, but I realize I've been sheltered from much of the blind hatred toward my people.

I grew up in an insulated community with many Jews and now live in a liberal Brooklyn neighborhood where, I hope and believe, people are judged by their character rather than the color of their skin or religion. Many if not most of my friends are Jewish; it's a tight circle. I have never been called a kike, though I know my mother and her siblings were when they were growing up. I imagine that's at least part of the reason my mom made sure I'd go to school and camp with other Jewish kids.

I did spend two years in a small town in Colorado; it was there that I experienced what it feels like to be a minority. When I asked for matzoh at the grocery store, they had no idea what I was talking about. There was no synagogue; a rabbi would travel up twice a month to conduct services in someone's home.

Tonight, I'll be with dear friends, but I'll be heading to the seder with a heavy heart. We will recount the Exodus tale of freedom from slavery, and I'll pray for the victims and their families–and freedom from hate.

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