CHICAGO — It is a familiar mantra following a hate crime: Representatives of both the targeted and other minority groups decry the attack as being not just against the victims, but “against all Americans.”
At a moment when a particular community feels vulnerable, that principle affirms our nation’s noblest ideals, rallies solidarity among diverse groups and rebukes the criminal’s hate.
This formula was invoked again following the killings in Overland Park, Kan., allegedly by an infamous white supremacist.
The venues for the multiple murders — a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home — combined with the suspect’s history of hate and his shouting “Heil Hitler” when apprehended, leave no doubts who he wanted to harm.
Half a century ago, when the 73-year old suspect was forming his demented worldview, it might have been reasonable to assume that those venues would yield Jewish victims. Yet in this case, those murdered at the Jewish venues 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 went to the Jewish home to visit her mother, a resident.
This integrated reality is now 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 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 rededicate ourselves to building 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. This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times.)