It is a mantra heard in the aftermath of every hate crime: This was an attack “against all Americans.”
At a moment when a particular community feels vulnerable, it is a sentiment that affirms our nation’s noblest ideals, rallies solidarity among diverse groups and rebukes the criminal’s hate.
So it goes again following the killings last weekend in Overland Park, Kan., allegedly by an infamous white supremacist.
The two places where the three people were killed — a Jewish Community Center (JCC) and a Jewish retirement home — together with the suspect’s history of hate and his alleged shouting “Heil Hitler” when apprehended — would seem to leave no doubt about whom he intended to harm.
Half a century ago, when this suspect, who now is 73, was forming his demented worldview, it might have been reasonable for him to assume that those two places would yield Jewish victims. Yet in this case, they were two Methodists and a Catholic.
The Methodists — a grandfather and his grandson — went to the JCC to participate in a singing competition sponsored by a non-Jewish group and open to the entire community. The Catholic woman went to the Jewish retirement home to visit her mother, a resident.
This ethnically and racially integrated reality is today the American “normal.” It is authentically American for Christians to seek services at a Jewish institution, and for Jewish institutions to open their doors to others.
That non-Jews died when Jews apparently were the intended targets illuminates just how abnormal the assumptions of bigots have become. They are swimming against our nation’s tide of harmonious inter-group relations. Bigots refuse to see — or recoil at the sight of — this new America.
In the wake of any hate crime, diverse groups unite not because we ourselves might become victims at one another’s facilities. We unite because our individual American dreams and our dreams for America are intertwined.
The lives destroyed in Kansas were of a young man yearning to sing, his doting grandfather, and a loving daughter visiting her mother. Americans of all stripes mourn their loss, and we rededicate ourselves to building precisely the type of America that the haters seek to destroy. That’s our response to bigotry. That’s our debt to those killed. That’s our dream.
Jay Tcath is Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.