The deadly shootings at a Jewish community center and a Jewish-run home for the aged in Kansas City were stark and horrifying reminders that the poison of anti-Semitism still flows in the bloodstream of some twisted Americans. The suspected shooter was an avowed white supremacist, well known to authorities and the Jewish groups that monitor hate. In retrospect, his leap from racial agitator to murderer seems foreordained, although experts caution that violent cases like these are relatively isolated and hard to predict.
That was little comfort for the three victims of the shooting, or their families, or the tight-knit Kansas City Jewish community whose sense of security was shattered on the eve of Passover — and possibly forever. And yet emerging from the tragedy were other sorts of reminders, those that mocked the sick philosophy of the shooter and reaffirmed the basic tolerance that lies in the hearts of good people.
The very fact that his victims were non-Jews enjoying the benefits of Jewish community institutions demonstrated the principled ecumenism at the heart of our communities. Around the country, such institutions serve Jews and non-Jews alike, building relationships across religious divides that are stronger than the messages of hate broadcast by the shooter and his ilk. “I think it’s important that we get together,” said Michael Peck, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Overland Park, at a memorial service for the victims, “and recognize that our bonds go deeper than cultural differences and religious differences.”
The deadly attack also came just days after the Anti-Defamation League issued its annual audit of anti-Semitic acts and overshadowed its findings that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2013 fell by 19 percent in the United States (and by 55 percent in New Jersey). ADL called this one of the “lowest levels of incidents reported” since it started keeping records in 1979.
None of this means that Jewish communities and their partners in law enforcement can or should relax their vigilance in tracking hate and securing our institutions. But it does suggest that while hate-filled individuals and groups still have the power to shock and harm us, they cannot dash a spirit of gratitude, openness, and well-being that characterizes Jewish life in the United States. The shooter wanted to kill the Jewish spirit. He failed.