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Not in my neighborhood: Kansas City religious communities to ‘stand together’ against hate Oct. 1

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III

Local leaders want to share a message that the Kansas City community is standing together against racism, religious persecution, hate and violence.

A special program set for 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection will address what the Kansas City community can do to stand up for our neighbors and against the hate and intimidation espoused by white nationalist and white supremacist groups. The program in the Resurrection Sanctuary at 137th and Nall is free and open to the public.

This program developed from conversations between the panelists, leaders of faith communities in our community: Church of the Resurrection Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton; The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah Senior Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff; and The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III from St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. An imam, who has yet to be confirmed, is also expected to be a member of the panel.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

“Our goal,” Rev. Hamilton explained, “is that our community be informed about these groups, and encouraged to stand together in the face of the kind of fear, intimidation and hate these groups foster.” The Kansas City area has seen this hate firsthand in the killing of Dr. William Corporon, Reit Underwood and Terri LaManno in 2014 at Jewish institutions in Overland Park and Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe in 2016.

In addition to the local clergy, a guest speaker will share information about white supremacist groups in Missouri and Kansas. Also joining the conversations that evening via Skype will be Rabbi Rachel Schemelkin from Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia, who will share how her community came together in the aftermath of the protests in her city in August.

Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff

Rabbi Nemitoff said this evening is important because we saw in Charlottesville a community that was torn apart because of hatred.

“We recognized that our world today is filled with pain and hatred and misunderstanding and distrust. We believe that our community is not like that. We believe that love can overcome hate, and by supporting one another, by loving one another and understanding one another, we can prevent a Charlottesville from happening in our community, and we want to be a model. We are concerned about our community, but we also want to be the antithesis of Charlottesville and be a model for how other communities might act when they are challenged with this type of hatred.”

He pointed to Billings, Montana, as a model community. Two decades ago, Billings pushed back against anti-Semitism by encouraging the whole town to put menorahs in their windows, which Rabbi Nemitoff said the newspaper printed. Just last year the people of Whitefish, Montana, banded together in the same way, asking the community to display menorahs in their windows after the Jewish community in Whitefish became the target of online harassment by neo-Nazis.

“They were not going to allow the Jewish community to stand alone, and we don’t want to do that either, whether it’s the black community, whether it’s the Muslim community, whether it’s the LGBT community, whomever it is, we will stand together as a community. We’ll be Kansas City strong,” Rabbi Nemitoff said.

This program grew from a conversation Rev. Hamilton initiated with Rabbi Nemitoff and Rev. Cleaver following the events in Charlottesville.

“We’ve reached out to Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor James, we’ve reached out to the mayor of Overland Park and the mayor of Leawood to ask for them to be supportive of this. This is not meant to be a political statement. It’s meant to be a communal statement of faith and support for one another,” Rabbi Nemitoff said.

The conversation and educational aspects of this evening, according to Rabbi Nemitoff, is “first and foremost to prevent a Charlottesville from happening in Kansas City.”

The rabbi said it is important to educate our entire community about the groups that “spew hatred and who foment decent.”

“We want to make sure that we all know who these groups are, to know what motivates them and how they operate,” Rabbi Nemitoff said. “Knowledge is power, and the more we understand about who these people are, the better we will be if we are challenged with them coming to our community.”

Another goal of this program, the rabbi said, is to get the entire community to stand up and say, “not in my neighborhood.”

“We will do what we can to support one another. If one of us is challenged, if one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked. All of us will support the one who is attacked,” he explained. 

“So, if there is an anti-Semitic act that happens against the Jewish community, the rest of the community — the Christian community, the Muslim community, the black community, the white community — will come together and support us. If there is an anti-Muslim act against the Jewish community, the Christian community, the black community, the white community will come and support them. And if hatred is spewed against the Christian community, the same thing will happen. We will not permit any group to be isolated, and if one person is attacked, we are all attacked,” he continued.

The final goal of the evening, Rabbi Nemitoff said, is to figure out what the Kansas City faith community would do if something like Charlottesville happens in Kansas City.

A part of the evening will be devoted to a conversation between the four clergy, who Rabbi Nemitoff said will discuss a “moment when we have been marginalized, a moment when we have been attacked, a moment when other people have stood up for us. And that’s the model that we want to present.”

Rabbi Nemitoff is saving his story for that evening, but said he has discussed it with Rev. Hamilton in the past, and the pastor has told the story during an Easter service and shares it with his confirmation classes regularly.

“He does it for the purpose of saying, ‘I want to be like the person who protected Rabbi Nemitoff when he was a teenager,’ ” Rabbi Nemitoff said, noting all the other clergy that evening will have similar stories to tell.

Every aspect of the evening is designed to help people identify what it looks like to stand together and to articulate a response when they hear degrading remarks, to not tolerate intolerance and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

“We pray this evening will be something healing and empowering,” Rabbi Nemitoff said. “Our community continues to show that we are the heart of America, and as such, we will demonstrate that love can conquer hate.”