The groundbreaking last week for a major expansion of the Jewish Community Center Campus in suburban Overland Park, Kan., revealed again how the Kansas City area's Jewish community is at once both cohesive and welcoming to non-Jews. In fact, Jews in our area often set a model for healthy religious and ethnic pluralism.
If you want more details about the new construction, The Kansas City Business Journal's story about it is here. (The architectural rendering above, courtesy of the JCC, shows what the new lobby will look like.)
Andrew Kaplan, chair of the center's board, told 100-plus people gathered for the ceremony that since its establishment in 1914, the center has "always welcomed all," whether Jewish or not. And, of course, the Jewish community here and elsewhere has several different approaches to Jewish life. In religious terms, the primary ones are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, but, in fact, many Jews here and across the U.S. identify as non-religious and yet still are part of the Jewish Community.
Adam Tilove, head of school of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy -- which is located at the center's site, often referred to just as The J -- said that "the new J isn't an end but a means to a greater end." It's clear that such a greater end would mean a healthy and secure Jewish community that is welcomed and appreciated by the wider community.
That's an important goal, especially given the ways that antisemitism has, across Kansas City's history, infected the community in both subtle and violent public ways. The most well-known recent example of the latter happened in April 2014 when a neo-Nazi seeking to kill Jews murdered two people outside The J (and one more at nearby Village Shalom), though all three turned out to be Christians.
So it was not surprising that when The J's executive director, Jim Lee Sluyter, spoke at the groundbreaking about what will be offered in the newly constructed space, he mentioned "enhanced security." (I wrote about the security question here in 2017.)
Michael Staenberg, a St. Louis philanthropist and former Kansas City resident who gave $3 million toward the $11 project (plus $2 million for ongoing maintenance), described to the groundbreaking crowd how important the Jewish Community Center was to him in Omaha when he was growing up. He's now helping to improve such centers in several U.S. cities.
What happened at the groundbreaking was evidence of several good things. First, that the Jewish community here is strong and dedicated to being an important part of the whole community. Second, that The J's programming is an important part of that and that it is drawing from the wider community -- so much so, in fact, that this expansion was necessary. But third, the Jewish community here is committed to confront a resurgent antisemitism in the nation by showing what a healthy community that takes care of its own and welcomes others looks like.
What those of us who aren't Jewish can do in response is pretty simple: participate in some of the offerings at The J and be good neighbors.
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WHO ELECTED HIM BISHOP?
The governor of Tennessee plans to name Oct. 10 a day of prayer and fasting for the state's citizens. Did voters know they were electing a religious leader? If so, why didn't they choose a pastor, an imam, a rabbi, a lama or some such?
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P.S.: Speaking of things Jewish today, please know that Kansas City Lodge 184 of B'nai B'rith has announced its 2019/2020 Margolis Memorial Essay Contest. It's for students graduating from a Kansas City area high school at the end of the Spring 2020 semester. For an application, you can download this pdf: Download Brith Please feel free to share it.