In the wake of an anti-Semitic attack that claimed three lives outside Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Rabbi Michael Davis used the Hebrew phrase “hamrot hakol” to describe Tuesday’s Passover gathering at his synagogue in Wichita.
It means “in spite of everything,” he explained.
“These people were shot and they were killed and it’s horrible. It doesn’t matter whether they are Jews or not,” Davis said. “It’s senseless. It’s needless, and it’s tragic.
“But in spite of everything, we go on and hope for a better future.”
About 100 people met Tuesday evening at east Wichita’s Temple Emanu-El to celebrate Seder, a religious service that couples a meal with the biblical retelling of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
Davis said extra police patrols had been requested in the area to help ease worries over safety, prompted by the deaths of 69-year-old William Lewis Corporon, his 14-year-old grandson Reat Griffin Underwood and Terri LaManno, 53, who were gunned down Sunday outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom senior living facility in Overland Park.
Earlier Tuesday, Johnson County prosecutors charged Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., 73, with one count of capital murder and one count of first-degree murder in the deaths. News reports from the area refer to Cross, who also goes by the name Frazier Glenn Miller, as an avowed racist and anti-Semite.
If there was extra security in Wichita, it was a quiet presence. There were no officers standing guard outside the temple, which is south of Central near Woodlawn. There were no marked cars in sight.
Inside, laughter rose above children’s chatter as members of the congregation arrived for the start of the 6 p.m. service. There were hugs and handshakes over tables set with the traditional Seder meal of unleavened bread, horseradish colored with beet juice, hard-boiled eggs, fish patties, apple-nut compote and wine.
Later during the service, there were games and joyful singing. And the sight of children’s grimaces at the bitter bite of horseradish drew chuckles from the crowd.
“There is a woman who is 94 and there’s a little girl who I think just turned 2 or 3 (here). And everything in between,” Davis told The Eagle. “We’re all together.
“And we’re having fun, and we’re remembering what it means to be a Jew.”
Although Sunday’s deaths were not at the center of the service, their weight was felt by the congregation.
Wichitan Joe Massimini, who attended with his wife, Arrah, said many felt a “sense of community” with the Overland Park membership, so the deaths there had cast a slight solemnity over the evening.
“Many people here in town have gone to the JCC for many things – food and programs,” he said. “So we’re all aware of the place and enjoy it.”
Jennifer Singh, also of Wichita, said the shootings were “on my mind, and I do feel for the individuals.”
At the opening of the service, Davis asked the congregation to observe a moment of silence in remembrance of Sunday’s shooting victims.
None of the dead, Davis reminded his congregation and guests, was Jewish.
“We have to acknowledge the event that happened recently in Overland Park where a man who was a lifelong anti-Semite apparently – apparently because he has not yet been proven innocent or guilty – shot and killed three innocent people at a Jewish Center ... thinking that they were Jews,” he said. “They weren’t. But he thought they were.”
He continued: “Why did he choose that day? It may be because it was before Passover. It may be because it would have been the 64th birthday of a racist serial killer who was executed last year who was a friend.
“Nobody knows right now. But we remember those who died.”