During this zeman cheiruteinu, the season of our freedom, I would like to make a solemn acknowledgment of righteous gentiles in our midst. In light of the recent tragedy in Overland Park, KS, it is all too easy to focus on sinister, age-old bigotry which continues to haunt Jewish people still today. But, as we celebrate freedom, we can recognize that with most of our neighbors, whether or not we share the same theology, we share the mutual understanding that we are all imbued with inherent rights to believe, to worship, and ultimately to live in any way we wish so long as we do not bring harm to others. Without this acknowledgment, we would not be able to enjoy our freedoms. As Jews, we have many friends, allies who support us, who defend us, and who work with us to guarantee religious freedom and safety for everyone in our communities. Rabbi Mark Levin, from Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park where I was confirmed, wrote these words recently as part of his response to the attack:
“I wish… that you could receive the loving calls I am receiving from friends and clergy all over the wider metropolitan area and indeed around the world. Our neighbors: Jews, Christians and Muslims are outraged that senseless murder would be aimed at our community. We live among friends, and that is very different from Pharaoh’s Egypt, Nazi Germany, or any other place in which Jews have suffered persecution.”
I too have received such calls from friends and clergy in Nebraska, not just because people know I grew up in Kansas City, but because they understand the pain all Jews feel when senseless violence is directed toward us. They want to express their love and care for our community who though distanced from the events by geography, still feel the wound in our Jewish hearts. These people are righteous gentiles, willing to befriend us, to support and defend us, in difficult times. It is important that we do the same for them whenever the opportunity arises.
It is therefore important to acknowledge the three victims of the heinous crime, none of whom were Jewish themselves. Each one died while making use of Jewish communal institutions. They were taking part in a community singing contest or visiting a loved one, normal actions taken out of shared interests which transcend any religious belief or cultural identity. Knowingly or not, they were friends of the Jewish people in the best way possible. In a way that would make Martin Buber proud, they did not see themselves as Christians or Jews as Jews. They only saw people they wanted to sing with and with whom they could share the responsibility of caring for aging parents. They saw the Jewish communal buildings as inviting places with wonderful resources which are meant to be shared. Nothing was I-It. It was I-Thou, people simply appreciating being with other people without consideration of difference. It was a model for peace and community relations which, I am grateful to say, had become quite ordinary. But the good feelings were momentarily shattered with the actions of one hate-filled person. Three Christians died from gunshots intended for Jews. By mere accident, their deaths prevented the killer from reaching his target. However, these victims did not choose to martyr themselves, nor would anyone have asked them to. They died simply because they were friends of the Jews modeling the humanity which can unite us all. They were righteous gentiles. In this season of our liberation, let us give thanks for them and all other who enable our freedom.
Let us remember and pray for the families of:
Reat Griffin Underwood
Dr. William Lewis Corporon
May the God of mercy grant them refuge in the bonds of everlasting life. And may their memories abide for eternal blessing.