By Harriet P. Gross
We never know when tragedy will hit close to home. Believe me! I was surprised, shocked, scared when I heard about the recent shootings on the campus of the Kansas City area JCC and one of its sister facilities, the senior residence called Village Shalom.
I have one last relative in the oldest generation on my father’s side of the family. My uncle Aaron — husband of Dad’s late sister Sophie — will be 100 on Memorial Day. He will celebrate that birthday, as he has his five most recent ones, where he lives: in Village Shalom.
Once there were 10 of us first cousins in that family, with branches in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Now, one has already passed away, three have moved to California, my sister is in New York and I’m here in Dallas. Three remain in Pittsburgh. That leaves only one in Kansas City.
Cousin Faye was quick to reach Village Shalom as soon as the news broke, and just as quick to email the rest of us with reassurances of no harm to our loved one. Plus this additional message: “Sad day in KC. This story has already become international. Gun control and mental illness once again in the news.”
Aaron’s daughter Roslyn, one of the California cousins, checked in by phone, then posted: “All the staff at Village Shalom was organized, caring and professional. We are very grateful. But — such a senseless loss of life.” Cousin Faye echoed:
“Senseless death has become routine in our country. This cannot be accepted.”
I add, as she did not: “Certainly not in Aaron’s country.” He fought in World War II, and met Aunt Sophie while she was serving with the WAACs (No spelling error here; in the ‘40s, this branch of service was called the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps).
Family fun: they had to sneak around to see each other because she outranked him! Both were long active with the Kansas City Jewish War Veterans, and Aaron was a major factor in the creation of the city’s stunning JWV tribute and memorial: a glass wall in the JCC, etched with the names of all the area’s Jewish vets who have served in every war since our country’s beginning.
I guess we were all relieved, and rightly so, that no one inside either Village Shalom or the JCC itself was injured or killed. But it’s hard to be happy for ourselves when a demented anti-Semite charged onto their grounds and, outside the buildings, took the lives of three innocents.
While he was yelling his vile epithets and Heiling Hitler, he managed to kill two Methodists and a Catholic. What obviously didn’t matter to him was that both institutions serve the entire community, not just the Jewish one. William Lewis Corporon and Reat Griffin, his 14-year-old grandson, were anticipating their attendance at a non-religious musical program inside the J. Terri LeManno, 53, was on the way to visit her mother, a resident of Village Shalom.
The rampage of Frazier Glenn Miller (or Cross, as he has preferred to be called), long known as a racist, brought new overtones to our Passover table. Remember Amalek, the Hebrew hater immediately after the Exodus? Here he was again, thousands of years later, still pouncing on innocents. When we spilled our drops of wine this year, we thought of the suffering of these two modern families as well as the ancient Egyptians.
Paul is the oldest in my band of cousins; I am second. From time to time, he’ll remind me that we’re moving up, just about ready to take our places at the head of the family line.
The life of our own patriarch, Aaron, like that of many others, was preserved by quick action during this last attack. But we must stay on the alert for the Amaleks who walk among us. Ours is the sad, but necessary, task we share with all Jews today.