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Jewish Kansas Citians find solace at cultural festival: 'We thrive as a community'

A woman in a black winter coat stands in a parking lot holding an Israeli flag.
Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
Hundreds of people rallied in support of Israel at the end of the annual Jewish Culture Fest at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.

The Jewish Culture fest — typically held every three years — came at a pivotal moment for many community members, many of whom have family in Israel.

Overcast skies and chilly temperatures didn’t keep hundreds of Kansas City residents from attending the Jewish Culture Fest in Overland Park Sunday.

This year’s event, usually held every three years, was the first one since 2018 because of the coronavirus pandemic. But its timing was especially significant this year, just over a week since Hamas militants killed more than 1,300 people in Israel and 27 American citizens in a terrorist attack, prompting the Israeli government to declare war against Hamas.

Emotions were raw among attendees, many of whom have family and friends in Israel.

“Our daughter’s in Israel,” said Richard Kohn, from Overland Park. “Her husband is a tank commander.” Kohn explained that his son-in-law, who operates an older tank, hadn’t been called to duty so far, “but if he gets called, that's when they really need tanks.”

Michael Berenbom from Leawood, Kansas, said the feeling at this year’s festival was a stark contrast from years past.

“Seeing a lot of old friends, they say, ‘How are you?’ And you just shrug your shoulders. Nobody here is gonna say they're doing good. Not too many people are. But there's resolve and it's good to be together,” Berenbom said.

Many attendees found solace in the strong showing from Kansas City’s Jewish community.

“It's just so fantastic to be together, " said Jeremy Krashin, from Overland Park. “We thrive as a community, in times of peace and in times of war. And especially right now, we're in a time of war and we lean on each other.”

Morgan Fasbinder, from Overland Park, is the director of Congregation Beth Torah’s Weiner Religious School. She said support from her community keeps her going.

“I think that's kind of what's bringing me peace in the moment — just knowing that I'm surrounded by the people who care the most," Fasbinder said.

Virginia Fuller, from Kansas City, Missouri, said that, as someone who frequently works and volunteers at music festivals, she was particularly shaken and disturbed by the idea that a festival like the Tribe of Nova gathering in Israel was the target of a terrorist attack.

Before attending the Jewish Culture Fest she felt anxious, she said, contemplating the idea of more violence.

But, she said, “What other way to show support and to be amongst people who think and believe similarly than to go to a festival that's celebrating all amazing things from Jewish people?”

Fuller said while the Jewish community isn’t a monolith, she felt unified in their support for one another. “I felt… a sense of peace, a sense of coming together as one people,” Fuller said.

The festival culminated in a rally to support Israel in its war with Hamas. Rabbi David Glickman from Congregation Beth Shalom told the crowd that Jews needed to come together.

“But, my friends, it’s not only Israel that is fighting. Each one of us is a soldier. Each one of us has something to do,” Glickman said.

He said everyone’s role will look different: some will send money, some will help raise the spirits of the Jewish people and some will comfort others in the community.

You can email me at g.russell@kcur.org.
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