As Passover begins, Suncoast Jews focused on Kansas shootings

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Jewish festival of Passover is a few short hours away, but for many people around the country and here on the Suncoast the celebration will serve as a venue for families to try and come to grips with the tragic shootings that occurred at two Jewish facilities in Kansas on Sunday.

"We can’t be afraid of bullies and thugs,” says Marty Haberer, director of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota and Manatee counties. One of the locations involved in the shooting was a community center that many say is similar to the local Jewish Federation. Both not only have a church, but also a daycare center and several other community venues for non-religious activities.

And though Haberer says the shooting has increased the center’s awareness level, he says he will not let it affect day to day activity.

"My feeling is that if you were to change your actions as a result of terrorism that would probably be the defeat, so I’m a firm believer that we go about our business and that we continue to us this facility to enhance lives," Haberer says.

The Jewish Federation isn’t the only organization working to dispel anti-Semitic views. Across town at the Kobernick Anchin Benderson retirement community, Holocaust survivor Helan Fagin has taken on her own mission.

"My parents [were] killed together with millions of others in a gas chamber because they were born Jewish, so when I survived I decided to start educating people," Fagin says.

In her quest to educate the public, Fagin says she's encountered people like the Kansas shooter, who according to official reports was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan known to have radical views. Case in point, a radio campaign advertisement 73-year-old shooter Frasier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller) released when running for senate in 2010. In it, Cross says “We've sat back and allowed the Jews to take over our government, our banks, and our media."

All views Fagin says she’s been fighting to dispel for years.

"It’s motivated by shear hatred that is in turn motivated by ignorance," she says.

As Passover gets underway, many in the Suncoast Jewish community say they will turn to their faith as they try to make sense of this tragedy.