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A Week After Pittsburgh Shooting, A Show Of Solidarity At An Overland Park Synagogue

Kyle Palmer
KCUR 89.3
Regular Beth Torah worshippers were joined Saturday by many who had never seen a Shabbat before.

Saturday morning Shabbat at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park typically draws about 30 worshippers. But this Saturday saw a crowd at least four times that number show up, drawn to this white stone synagogue along 127th Street wanting to show solidarity against hate and anti-Semitism.

Synagogues across the country, including at least nine in the metro, participated in what organizers called Solidarity Shabbat, in which people were invited to attend services alongsite regular congregants, just a week after the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Many of the guests Saturday at Beth Torah were not Jewish. And some of them, like Shannon Stone of Kansas City, Missouri, had never been to a shabbat before. 

Credit Kyle Palmer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Shannon Stone (right) came to Beth Torah show support for the Jewish community.

"I think that it’s up to all of us to step outside our comfort zone in order to show support. Any one of us could have found ourselves in a situation like that," Stone said, referring to the Pittsburgh shooting. "We should be in support of the right to feel secure and safe where we worship." 

Stone and the other guests were a welcome presence for Beth Torah's regular worshippers, including Jim and Kelly Kaplan. 

“It’s heartwarming to see the support of the greater community, " said Jim Kaplan, tearing up as he spoke. "To see that while we’re grieving, there are people out there thinking of us.”

Beth Torah's service followed the familar rituals of Shabbat, with prayers chanted in unison, songs sung in Hebrew, and readings from the Torah. But the Pittsburgh tragedy was never far from mind. 

And outside, a reminder of the world beyond: an armed Overland Park police officer stood guard on Beth Torah's front sidewalk throughout the morning. 

Credit Kyle Palmer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Overland Park Police Capt. Brian Houlihan stood guard at Congregation Beth Torah's entrance.

During a part of the services when congregants prayed for recently departed loved ones, Rabbi Javier Cattapan read off the names of the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh shooting. He also mentioned the victims of an apparent hate crime in Kentucky in which a white man shot and killed two black people at a grocery story. 

Rabbi Cattapan also led a group discussion of Psalm 89. His theme: "chesed," which he translated from the Hebrew as "compassion" or "loving kindness." 

"We’re still concentrated on the mourning period," Cattapan said. "But I don’t want to focus on just the massacre, but also on the values of those people who were killed."

Congregants offered their own definitions of "chesed," with one man saying it was the ability to forgive acts of hate that defined compassion for him. After that, Cattapan invited a local minister to read from the Torah. 

The service had lighter moments, a reminder of the special cicrumstances of the gathering. At one point, just before the Torah scrolls were taken out of the synagogue's ark, Cattapan told the congregants: "If you've not seen this before, I won't try to explain it. You're just going to have to enjoy the experience."

The synagogue is just around the corner from Village Shalom, one of the targets of an avowed white supremacist's shooting spree in 2014 that left three people dead. 

In contrast, Clint and Karen Chadwick of Olathe said they wanted to bring their two young children, Charlotte and Spencer, to Beth Torah Saturday to show solidarity as a family. 

“You can’t let [violence] happen to any community. If you start scapegoating different groups, where does that stop?” Clint Chadwick said.

Credit Kyle Palmer / KCUR
Congregants offered prayers during a blessing at the end of the shabbat.

For Henri Goettel, a long-time member of Beth Torah, Shabbat couldn't come soon enough. 

"The 26 hours of Shabbat are a time apart, a time to rest and rejuvenate and move away from the news of the week into a different space," she said.

In the Jewish tradition, a week-long period of morning known as "shivah" follows a person's burial. Cattapan noted the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting were buried in the days leading up to this special Saturday of solidarity. 

"We know there is a next day, a tomorrow that comes after tragedy. But we're not there yet." 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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