Overland Park Shootings Resonate in Lawrence Community

(Written April 2014)

The deadly shootings at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and a nearby Jewish retirement home in Overland Park hit close to home for many University students and Lawrence citizens.

Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., 73, of Aurora, Mo., was arrested and charged Sunday evening for the shooting that left three people dead at the JCC and Village Shalom. Although none of the victims were Jewish, authorities are investigating the shootings as a hate crime.

The shooting was especially worrisome for Becca Berger, a senior from Overland Park who went to school at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, which is located inside the JCC, and whose grandmother lives in Village Shalom.

“It didn’t just hit close to home, it hit my home,” Berger said. “We’re a very sheltered community. I never really thought that this would happen to such a small town, a small community.”

The shooting, which occurred on the eve of the Jewish holiday Passover will be charged as a hate crime, according to Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas. Cross is a well-known white supremacist and allegedly yelled a Nazi salute after the shootings.

Berger, who is also involved with KU Hillel, said when she came across the location of the shooting on Twitter she did not suspect it was a coincidental event.

“When I saw that it said Jewish Community Center, and Village Shalom, it was automatic. There was no question in my mind it was a hate crime,” Berger said. “The timing of it was just terrible, because today is Passover and we’re celebrating our freedom [from] slavery in Egypt, but how free are we when we’re in 2014 and still having prejudiced people attack us?”

The crime hit close to home for Rabbi Moti Rieber of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center too, whose children were at the center at the time of the shooting.

Rieber said the LJCC’s Passover celebration on Monday would go on as planned, but they did request a police presence outside the synagogue just in case. Nevertheless, Rieber said the shooting won’t affect how they live their everyday lives going forward.

“The Jewish community is certainly not going to be cowed by this kind of thing,” Rieber said. We’re going into Passover and it adds a somberness to the holiday and a sobriety to it, but it certainly doesn’t change our determination to continue to live as we’ve always lived as Jews in America.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of the Chabad Center at KU said he is encouraging more students to take part in Passover celebrations as a way to deal with a tragedy that affects so many Jewish students at the University on a personal level.

“In Judaism, we believe the way you fight darkness is with light, so when you face hatred, you have to respond with love,” Tiechtel said. “Many of the Jewish students here at KU have been shaken with this story because so many of them grew up with the JCC being a part of their life, but what we’re trying to do is change our anger and bitterness into positivity by reaching out to others, by increasing togetherness in our community and increasing unity.”

A special service is being planned at the LJCC early next week, and a walk will be held to honor the victims this Friday in Overland Park, starting from the JCC to Village Shalom and ending with a prayer service at 7 p.m.

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