When I left Sunday morning to give a presentation on my Holocaust book Needle in the Bone at a Topeka synagogue, hate crimes against Jews seemed as far away as the Jewish ghettos of Poland over 70 years ago. Despite the hate crimes committed in this country and around the world daily against my people and many other peoples, I felt relatively insulated from such dangers. Like many of us, I keep my cheer in check through short stints of thinking about horrendous things happening, punctuated by prayers and wishes for the victims, before returning to life as I live it.
Hearing the news of the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, the real and present danger of such hate crimes hit home. Like many in this region, I know my way to the JCC and have presented workshops and talks there over the years. Even more so, some dear friends work there, and bring their children there for events and programs (our rabbi’s daughters were in the building at the time). Any violence against one center of Jewish life immediately reminds us of our vulnerability at all other such centers, including my own synagogue in Lawrence, and the synagogue in Topeka where I just talked about the Holocaust as well as Jewish centers across the country.
No doubt that there will be increased security at all these places, adding onto the regular presence of security guards for holidays and special events, and protocols for what to do when under attack. Of course we’ll also redouble our prayers for peace and work for justice, hold vigils and hold each other, embrace interfaith dialogues, further educate ourselves about terrorist groups and risks, and say or sing a special prayer tonight at Passover. We’ll also feel what we feel: sadness, heartbreak, despair, hopelessness, grief, numbness, and anger.
As I clean my house for the seder tonight, chop parsley for us to dip in salt water to remember our tears, and set the long rented tables in our living room, I’ll also be feeling my way through that question that haunts any talk I give on the Holocaust: how could this happen? Over the last two weeks, I’ve given seven out of eight scheduled talks for April on Needle in the Bone, each one bringing people together to grapple with where evil can lead, and what it means to begin again. The one talk remaining happens next week in Overland Park, close to where three people died senselessly because of hate. May we all grow our minds, hearts and spirits in courage and love.