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As I see it: Love our neighbors as we love ourselves

By Barbara Bayer


“Lean on me when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.”

We don’t always give teens the credit they deserve. Teens are often accused of being young and preoccupied. Even if they are young and preoccupied, they often do good things, especially the BBYOers who planned the Friday night service, vigil and walk to Village Shalom from the Jewish Community Campus last week.

These particular teens are especially wise.

They knew our worlds were rocked last week, when a suspected lone wolf, a known anti-Semite, killed three people in our own back yards, the parking lots of the Jewish Community Campus and Village Shalom. We all know the accused killer was trying to hurt us, but instead he took the lives of three people who are not Jewish. In my opinion, that made us feel even worse.

These kids have never been in this type of situation before. Heck, neither had I. But one of those who died was one of them. He was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. Many attended school with him. It hit them hard.

So they prepared a service. As the editor of The Chronicle, I wasn’t technically allowed to attend. Media were told they must stay outside. But I’m not just media. I’m Jewish. I’m a member of this community. I was hurting too, so I was there.

I had already decided not to take notes. I don’t work at Shabbat services and though it is debatable due to the timing of this particular service, it was, to me, a Shabbat service. So I listened. I prayed. I felt the presence of community.

The teens did it all, with a little help from their friends, BBYO adviser Annie Rifkin and Matt Rissien, a former BBYOer and currently USY adviser in the Chicago area who happened to be visiting family for Passover, and from Gevura Davis, who runs the Kehilath Israel Synagogue Religious School. Often we sang out of tune. We couldn’t quite get Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me,” right, even with two people, Rabbi Binyomin Davis and Rachel Kennely, playing guitar.

I was not the only one touched. I got there early. I was sure it would be crowded. I had no idea just how crowded. The Campus Social Hall was literally busting at the seams. They didn’t open the room up as they do for Israel Independence Day and they should have. I thought it would be mostly teens but people of all ages, parents with young children, parents with teens, even adults with no children or grown children were there. People simply wanted to be together. Needed to be together.

As the service ended and we all moved to the parking lot in the front circle of the building, I was amazed at the number of people that were there. And they just kept coming. I saw carloads of students. Many wearing BVH — Blue Valley High — spirit clothing, came in car after car after car.

The Overland Park Police Department estimated 3,000 people were there. It was a sight to see. Photos don’t do it justice.

That wasn’t the only sight to see last week. Toward the end of the Thursday morning Service of Unity & Hope, offered by the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City in partnership with community clergy, three candles were lit in memory of Dr. William Corporon, his grandson Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno. During this time all elected officials who were present were invited to join the candle lighters — Matt Lewis, president and CEO of Village Shalom; Jacob Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center, Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the home church of Dr. Corporan and Reat; and Father Charles Rowe of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Terri LaManno’s congregation. There were many.

Then they asked all the clergy present to come to the stage. Men and women of all faiths — almost every rabbi in Kansas City was there — kept walking down the aisles. They kept coming and coming. Turns out many were in the Social Hall, which was filled as was the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre. It’s been estimated 2,000 people attended the service.

It was heartwarming to watch, as was the wall of love created on Friday afternoon prior to the funerals of Dr. Corporan and Reat. People lined up on Nall near the Church of the Resurrection, stretching from 135th Street to 143rd Street. I wish I was there. I’ve only seen photos.

I thought it was supposed to be a counter protest, portraying the opposite views of the pickets from the Westboro Baptist Church. The police kept them on Roe, the other side of the Church of the Resurrection. But those who were there tell me it was a time of love and not a time of protest. As at the unity service, people from every faith and all walks of life showed up to support the families, both outside and inside the church. 

We needed the support from each other. We still need the support from each other. As Schreiber has said, “I have no words to describe this, literally, worldwide outpouring of love and support.”

At the end of last week I was exhausted, inspired and motivated. I would guess many of you were too. We were there for each other last week. We need to continue to be there for each other as we grieve for the three innocent lives that were taken from us so senselessly last week. We are also grieving for the loss of the world we once knew, the little safe cocoon we call our Jewish community. Life as we know it here will never be the same.

But as I said last week, I am not afraid. I’ve been to the Campus several times since then. I noticed police there every time. It made me feel good to know the Overland Park Police Department is keeping my safety, and the safety of my friends and family, in mind. Former Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass says we are safe. I believe him.

We won’t see a police presence forever, but I don’t think I need to see it forever. I know they are watching us, as is Campus security. I know we care for each other, for those in our greater Kansas City and worldwide community.

I cried when I heard Cantor Sharon Kohn and Hazzan Tahl Ben-Yehudah sing “Oseh Shalom.” “May He who makes peace in high places, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, Amen.”

Let us say once again, Amen.