Religion

Jewish leaders offer ‘opportunity for Wichita to stand together’ after Pittsburgh massacre

Vigil at Overland Park synagogue honors victims of Pittsburgh mass shooting

More than 1,500 people gathered Monday night at the Kehilath Israel Synagogue in Overland Park for a public vigil to honor the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the aftermath of the Oct 27 Tree of Life mass shooting that took the lives of 11 people.
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More than 1,500 people gathered Monday night at the Kehilath Israel Synagogue in Overland Park for a public vigil to honor the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the aftermath of the Oct 27 Tree of Life mass shooting that took the lives of 11 people.

The wonderful thing about Wichita, Rabbi Michael Davis said, is that in times of crisis, its people are there for each other.

Whether supporting its Muslim community post-9/11 or standing up to bigotry against Hispanics or members of the LGBTQ community, Wichita stands together, Davis said.

After a Saturday morning shooting in Pittsburgh killed 11 Jewish people at their place of worship and wounded several others, Davis wants to add Wichita to the growing list of communities that are calling for unity in the face of an increasingly divided country.

Pittsburgh police say Robert Bowers, 46, entered the synagogue during Saturday morning services and opened fire. A social media account in his name included anti-Semitic remarks.

Rabbi Judah Kogen said the people of Wichita have two ways to respond to the Pittsburgh massacre.

“We can either respond to this by saying, ‘Well, that was an isolated incident in a community a thousand miles away,’ or we can say it’s comparable to other things we’ve seen in our country and it could happen here tomorrow,” Kogen said.

“The fact that something is isolated doesn’t mean it’s trivial,” Kogen said.

The name of the synagogue where the Pittsburgh attack happened is Tree of Life. On Thursday, Davis and Kogen are inviting people of all faiths and backgrounds to attend a multi-faith service “calling for unity in the face of bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism” at the Congregation Emau-El, 7011 E. Central.

“We will replant the ‘Tree of Life’ which had been attacked on Saturday,” Davis said.

Everyone is welcome, Davis said. The service will include several speakers, a few songs and Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy. The service will start at 7 p.m. inside the building in the social hall.

Kogen said it’s important for the people to attend to know that they’re not alone.

“Everybody may feel outrage in their own way but not feel like the community is outraged,” Kogen said. “We need to be able to express the feelings of the community as well as our own individual feelings.”

“While this heinous act was the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community, it was merely another in a long list of bigoted violence perpetrated against minorities,” Davis said.

A Sikh temple in Wisconsin. A Christian church in South Carolina. The Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. A church in Kentucky on Sunday. Places of worship have become targets for mass shooters in recent years, Davis said. He added he thinks bringing people of different backgrounds together will help bring an end to the violence.

“It’s an opportunity for Wichita to stand together to express our support for each other and also to say there is no place for racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism in our society,” Davis said. “If we don’t, then it will continue to rise and lead to further tragedy.”

“The point is to come together as a community,” Davis said. “The way to answer the kind of hate that was demonstrated in Pittsburgh is for the community to come together and say, ‘No!’”

If you go

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Congregation Emanu-El, 7011 E. Central, near Central and Woodlawn.

Who: All faiths welcome

11 people were killed and multiple people were injured in a shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27. Police said the suspect is in custody.

Chance Swaim: 316-269-6752, @byChanceSwaim

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