People of many faiths filled the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation Monday evening for what organizers described as a communion to condemn violence and hatred and affirm diversity and acceptance.
The evening featured a dozen speakers, with poems recited and songs performed in between their talks. Many doctrines were represented — Judaism, Methodism, Unitarianism, Islam, Presbyterianism, agnosticism and atheism, among others. The speakers sought a show of unity in the wake of the shootings at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park that left three people dead on April 13.
Rabbi Moti Rieber, who lives in Overland Park, said before the program that many Jews in Lawrence work in Johnson County and have visited the JCC there before. The shootings "hit really close to home," he said.
Rieber began the evening by pointing out the fallacy in targeting one specific group of people for violence. He said the accused, well-known white supremacist and anti-semite Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., ended up killing three Christians rather than Jews.
"You know what that tells me? He couldn't tell the difference," Rieber said. "In 50 or 100 years it might be nearly as difficult to tell so-called races apart as it is to tell the religions apart today, and that's a good thing. That tells us that violent white racists have lost."
Moussa Elbayoumy, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations , said in his speech that as terrible as acts of violence can be, the aftermath reliably shows proof of humanity's compassion.
Elbayoumy said that the killer had failed. "Your actions united the community more than you could imagine," he said.
Two women who said they were cousins of two of the victims -- and who asked not to be named -- spoke unexpectedly at the event's conclusion. In their remarks, one of them emphasized peace and asked the audience to not "let anger be part of this, because it will do no good."
By the end of the night, the audience, numbering around 100, had participated in a candlelight vigil, sung songs in Hebrew and heard prayers in three languages. Artie Shaw, 84, a member of the Lawrence JCC, said he had rarely attended a gathering where "clergy-type" members were so "wonderfully articulate and on message."