On Passover eve, ‘sadness and dismay’
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On Passover eve, ‘sadness and dismay’

Jewish groups shocked by ‘heinous’ shootings at Kansas Jewish centers; Muslims, Sikhs also express solidarity

Police cars sit outside Village Shalom, the senior living center where one of three victims was killed when a gunman opened fire on April 13, 2014 in Johnson County, Kansas (Photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP)
Police cars sit outside Village Shalom, the senior living center where one of three victims was killed when a gunman opened fire on April 13, 2014 in Johnson County, Kansas (Photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP)

As details poured in on Sunday’s shooting at two Jewish centers in Kansas City, Kansas, in which three people were killed in a possible hate-based attack, Jewish groups and officials expressed their grief and sorrow at the events and sent their condolences to victims’ families.

“We can’t help but note that this attack comes on the eve of Passover, a celebration of Jewish freedom from oppression and violence,” David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said in a statement.

“As we await more details on the attack and its motive, we join in solidarity with the entire Kansas City area community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in expressing shock, sadness and dismay,” he added.

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, said via Twitter that his “thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the Jewish community of Kansas.”

Karen Aroesty, St. Louis Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League, said, “The attacks on the Jewish community centers in Overland Park are a cowardly, unspeakable and heinous act of violence.”

“While it is too early to label these shootings as a hate crime, the fact that two Jewish institutions were targeted by the same individual just prior to the start of the Passover holiday is deeply troubling and certainly gives us pause,” Aroesty added. “We have reached out to local, state and federal law enforcement and stand willing and able to offer guidance and assistance to the community if this incident turns out to have been motivated by anti-Semitism.”

Local news outlets reported that the suspect arrested shortly after the attack, a man in his 70s, was heard yelling “Heil Hitler” as police took him into custody.

Police officials would not confirm the report, and said the investigation into the suspected shooter’s motives was ongoing.

B’nai B’rith International said it hoped “the investigation is both thorough and expeditious and extended its “condolences to the victims, families and entire Jewish community in the Kansas City area.”

The Kansas City Jewish Community Center, where the initial attack took place, said in a statement that “our hearts go out to all those affected and touched by this terrible tragedy.

“Our heartfelt gratitude as well to all those in Kansas City and around the world who have expressed sympathy, concern and support.”

Local Mitch Gold, whose daughter was attending a birthday party at the JCC during the incident, said that they spent what seemed like two hours under lock-down in the aftermath of the shooting. “I won’t sleep tonight,” he said, but added that he had faith in the the “tight knit community I already see bonding together to face and overcome this tragedy.”

Yosef Silver, another JCC member, said his initial reaction was that he would never go back to the center, but then realized the shooting “cannot take away the unity” of what he termed “a hidden gem of a community” in Kansas City. Silver, who had been in London during the July 7, 2005 bombings and has also lived in Israel, said the incident made him question the safety of being in America. “We go about our lives and think we are safer here than anywhere in the world,” he said.

Resident Anne Green said that she was bringing her kids to their swimming lessons at the JCC and arrived only ten minutes after the shooting, where she was prevented from entering by police officers already on the scene. It “really woke me up” and helped “me realize what is important,” she said. “We usually get there earlier and we were running late today… it puts things in perspective,” Green added.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a major US Muslim group, said it stood with the Jewish community after the killing spree.

“We are saddened by this vicious act of hatred,” CAIR said.

“Americans of all faiths must join together to reject the kind of extremist ideologies that can lead to such inexcusable and unconscionable acts.”

The American Sikh Coalition tweeted that its community’s “thoughts and prayers are with…the Jewish community of Kansas.”

In New York, the Rabbinical Assembly said “Two rituals performed at every Seder around the world will be excruciatingly poignant tomorrow night. We will do as our tradition requires, and as our people have done for centuries. Every Seder participant will dip a new spring vegetable in salt water to remember the tears of slavery and will remove ten drops of wine from our their cups in commemoration of the suffering of the Egyptians through the ten plagues.

“Our tradition teaches infinite compassion for every human being and the infinite value of every life. This year, we fill our bowls with our own tears and pour out our wine cups in mourning the senseless murders of the innocent. But we will do it together as one worldwide Jewish people, steadfast in our resolve.

“Though our joy may be marred this year with sadness, we are resolute in our commitment to carry forth God’s covenant with the Jewish people to bring justice and goodness into the world and to honor the infinite value of every human being many times each day through our actions.”

Maayan Jaffe contributed to this report.

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