Baltimore's Jewish community responds to Kansas City shootings

BALTIMORE - For Chizuk Amuno Congregation Rabbi Ron Shulman, Sunday’s shooting that left three dead at an Overland Park, Kan. Jewish Community Center and Jewish retirement complex hit a little too close to home.

Shulman was on the way to the airport to pick up his wife’s aunt and uncle when he received a call from the couple’s son.

“He told me that there was a shooting at the JCC near Kansas City and he had been there with his daughter 10 minutes earlier,” Shulman said. “Thankfully, they were OK, but it was just so sad to hear about the loss of life.”

The shootings were allegedly carried out by Frazier Glenn Cross of Aurora, Mo., who is jailed in Johnson County, Kan. He has not been formally charged in the killings, but officials said more information about charges was expected Tuesday.

Police say Cross fatally shot two people Sunday afternoon in the parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, then drove to a retirement community where he shot a third person. He was arrested in an elementary school parking lot.

Cross is no stranger to hate crimes and anti-Semitic groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Cross was a former leader of the Carolina KKK and the White Patriot Party. Both groups acted as paramilitary organizations in the 1980s.

Many in Baltimore’s tight-knit Jewish community are on edge since the shootings, which come just a day before the start of the Passover holiday.

“This news was very unsettling,” Shulman said. “I just keep hoping that as a people and a nation we were better than this. It’s just unreal that it would happen right before a holiday in Passover that deals with values such as human life and freedom.”

Baltimore County police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter said the department is paying attention to the situation in Kansas and has increased patrols in parts of Pikesville and other predominately Jewish portions of the county.

“As in any other national event that could impact security locally, Baltimore County police takes appropriate actions to ensure the safety of residents,” Wachter said. “We intend on being more vigilant in areas where there are large Jewish populations. However, at this time there is no indication that there is any imminent threat to the area in response to Sunday’s shootings.”

Especially in the years since the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, those in Baltimore’s Jewish community have worked hard to ensure synagogues, Jewish schools and other facilities a re protected from hate crimes and/or attacks.

Much of this assistance locally has come in the form of Department of Homeland Security grants. In January, Congress budgeted $13 million for such grants.

Since 2005, Jewish institutions have received more than $110 million nationally over about the last decade to aid them in everything from security cameras and gates to terrorist attack drill training.

Still, Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Art Abramson said all of the grants and training in the world can’t totally stop an attack from happening.

“When you are dealing with a ‘lone wolf’ like in Sunday’s shooting, being able to completely stop them can be just about unpreventable,” said Abramson, who estimates that the Baltimore area has benefited in about $1 million in federal security grants over the past 8 to 10 years.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff, of the Owings Mills-based Har Sinai Congregation, said he was also saddened by Sunday’s shooting and said it is an unfortunate sign of the times. At the same time, he said the area’s Jewish community has plenty of reasons to feel safer now than in previous generations.

“Shootings like this one is the reason why we take due diligence with our congregation and why unfortunately our doors are locked and our synagogue is not as open as we would like it to be,” Sharff said. “But unlike previous times, law enforcement is there to protect the Jewish community and not harm them.”

Mitch Posner knows the events that unfolded in Kansas could have easily taken place in Baltimore. Posner also felt a connection to the victims as he is the executive director of CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc.), which as part of its mission oversees low-income senior housing.

“Our hearts, souls and prayers go out to all of the victims in Kansas City. This is a time of year when both Jewish and Christian communities come together and celebrate holy days. This was such a senseless act, and I’m hopeful we can move forward as a people and heal from this.”

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who is Jewish, offered the following statement on the shootings:

“I was deeply saddened to hear about the tragic shooting in Kansas,” Cardin said.  “The hate that motivated this act of violence flies in the face of everything we believe as Americans.  We have made so much progress against prejudice and intolerance in this nation, but this senseless killing illustrates just how far we still have to go.  Anti-Semitism has no place in our society, and I urge all Americans to stand

with the people of Overland Park.  My prayers are with the victims’ families at this difficult time.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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