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Johnson County leaders decry attacks on Israel — here's how to help

People gathered on Monday in solidarity with Israel at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.
Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City
People gathered on Monday in solidarity with Israel at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.

Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City is hosting a support group Wednesday evening for the local Jewish community. And the Jewish Culture Fest planned for Sunday at the Jewish Community Center will go ahead as planned.

Johnson County leaders and communities have voiced strong support for Israel following a series of deadly attacks carried out by Hamas.

Over the weekend, Hamas — considered a foreign terrorist group by the U.S. State Department — initiated a string of attacks against Israel, sparking a war with the Jewish state. Hundreds have been killed, and thousands have been injured.

Gavriela Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau in Kansas City | American Jewish Committee, called it “the most horrifying and deadly attack on Israel in the past 50 years.”

“Many people, including myself, have never seen an attack of this scale in our lifetimes,” she said. “This is truly a massacre of Jews on the proportions that have not been seen in many, many years.

“A terrorist organization with backing from the Iranian government carried out this operation in order to harm and kill, torture and take hostage as many innocent civilians as they possibly can,” Geller continued. “And so I urge the public to be clear-headed about the situation and to stand against terrorism unequivocally.”

Community gathers

On Monday, The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City and the American Jewish Committee hosted a gathering in solidarity with Israel. Hundreds attended in person, and more joined online.

During the gathering, Senior Rabbi Stephanie Kramer from The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, called the attack on Israel “horrific” and “unimaginable.”

“Tonight, we come together to try to use words of the Jewish tradition for this unspeakable tragedy, words and songs for comfort, healing and supplications for safety and peace,” Kramer said, thanking the community for its support. “Tonight, we lean on each other and muster up our inner courage and strength for the days ahead.”

Geller said more support events and vigils are planned in the next few days as well, including one on Thursday, though the details are still undetermined.

Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City is hosting a support group Wednesday evening for the local Jewish community. The group will meet at 7:30 p.m. You can register for it here.

Additionally, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City Jay Lewis told the Shawnee Mission Post the Jewish Culture Fest planned for Sunday at the Jewish Community Center will go ahead as planned.

“Unfortunately, the Jewish people and the Jewish community have a long history of being threatened and attacked,” Lewis said, “and even in our worst times, we still continue with making sure that life goes on and we continue with our celebrations.”

The Sunday event begins at 11 a.m. Find more information here.

Hundreds of people attended the solidarity gathering in person and online.
Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City
Hundreds of people attended the solidarity gathering in person and online.

Elected officials condemn attacks

Many local elected officials have been quick to condemn the attacks against Israel.

Sen. Jerry Moran made his first public statement on X on Saturday, saying the attacks on Israel “appalled” him.

“I strongly condemn these actions and resolutely stand in support of Israel as it responds to this terrorism. The suffering of Israelis and Palestinians at the hands of this Iranian-supported terrorist group must end,” Moran said.

In subsequent statements, Moran called for accountability for Iran, who has backed Hamas.

Rep. Sharice Davids has also taken to social medial, saying she’s “heartbroken at the horrific attacks perpetuated by Hamas terrorists.”

“I unequivocally condemn this violence. I have always supported security assistance for Israel, our close ally in the Middle East,” she posted on Saturday. “I remain committed to that support as Israel confronts this ongoing threat and will stand by efforts to protect Israelis and reaffirm Israel’s right to self defense.”

Gov. Laura Kelly and Attorney General Kris Kobach issued a combined statement as well.

“Like all Kansans, we are sickened and angered by the images and accounts of Hamas terrorists attacking, killing, kidnapping, and brutalizing Israeli men, women, and children. We condemn these acts of terrorism and extend our deepest sympathies to the Israeli people,” their emailed statement said.

Sen. Roger Marshall also spoke out. He said his office has “successfully helped Americans escape from other dangerous situations in foreign nations” previously and offered the same support now. An email dated Monday said his office has assisted four Americans in their evacuation to neighboring nations from Israel.

Additionally, during their Monday night meeting, the Blue Valley Board of Education offered support for families affected by the violence in Israel and hoped “for a swift arrival of peace and stability in Israel.”

“The impact is deep and personal, not only for our community, but also for some of our students and staff members,” school board President Jodie Dietz said, underlining the support available through the Blue Valley care teams in each school. “But this is also a timely reminder that antisemitism, like all forms of prejudice and hatred, have no place in our schools. And we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide an educational experience that is welcoming and nurturing for every student, regardless of their background and personal experience.”

Support for Jewish family, friends

Geller encouraged Johnson County residents to offer support to their Jewish family and friends now and as the war continues in Israel.

“Everybody needs to be reaching out to their Jewish friends and neighbors and coworkers and offering them support and comfort and solidarity,” she said. “We need to hear from everybody in our lives to let us know that we’re not alone, that we do have support, that people see what’s happening and that they care.”

Lewis echoed that sentiment as well.

“Everybody in the Jewish community has some connection to Israel,” Lewis said. “If you have nowhere else to go, you’ve been able to go to Israel, and when Israel’s existence is threatened, it shakes the foundation for a number of Jews.”

Geller is “grateful” for the showings of “allyship” she’s seen so far in the community, but implored more people, companies and organizations to speak up.

“I do feel that the Jewish community deserves more public support than what we are seeing now,” Geller said. “I would really ask those who haven’t yet to interrogate why that is and make it right.”

She also suggested people donate to the global response and to support victims through the Jewish Federations of North America. Additionally, Lewis said people can give directly to the Israel Emergency Fund at jewishkansascity.org.

“We need that ongoing support as well, not just in this moment, but this is going to be a real long haul,” Geller said. “We will need to continue supporting the Israeli people against terrorism in the coming days and weeks to come.”

Chabad of Leawood on Facebook shared a JGive fundraiser for a volunteer medical emergency organization called Tzevet Hatzolah. It supports first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way.

“My nephew is one of these first responders. He hasn’t slept in two days and is putting his life on the line to help the injured. They desperately need bulletproof vests and ballistic helmets so that they can G-d willing return to their families. Please give as if your family member was on the front lines,” the post from Chabad of Leawood says.

Antisemitic behavior in Johnson County

Geller is concerned that there will be a rise in antisemitism in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel, which has happened following previous conflicts.

Even before the war, there’s been a rise in antisemitic behavior locally, including from a now-removed vendor at the Overland Park Farmers Market and at some local schools.

“We’ve already seen that start, and we will continue to see that grow,” Geller said, referencing a spike in antisemitic violence and hate speech in 2021 in the U.S. while Israel and Hamas warred for two weeks. “So everybody needs to be holding their Jewish friends and family very close today. And like I said, be prepared to do so in the coming weeks.”

She said education will be the solution to combating antisemitic behavior, in this context and in others. People can’t stand against something they don’t recognize, like the “dog whistles, the history behind antisemitic tropes and ideas,” Geller said.

But, she stressed, “Jewish people are extremely resilient.”

“Over thousands of years, we have faced antisemitism, which has been called the world’s oldest hatred,” Geller said. “We know what it means to suffer, and we know what it means to survive. In every generation, there are those who seek to harm and destroy us, and they have never succeeded. They will not succeed now.”

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Kaylie McLaughlin covers Shawnee, Lenexa and USD 232 for the Shawnee Mission Post.
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