As the last day of Passover wound down on April 27 and students began arriving at the Chabad House serving Drexel University for the Moshiach’s Meal, Rabbi Chaim Goldstein noticed that something seemed amiss.
The students looked worried and were chatting among themselves and with his wife, Moussia Goldstein. When he inquired further, Rabbi Chaim Goldstein learned that there had been a shooting at Chabad of Poway in San Diego County, California, earlier that day.
For Goldstein, whose uncle is Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the news hit close to home. He and Moussia Goldstein, whose brother-in-law is also a rabbi at Chabad of Poway, waited in trepidation through the final hours of Passover, until they could learn who had been shot and how they had fared.
The Jewish community has been left grappling with the Chabad of Poway shooting exactly six months to the day after another shooting took 11 lives at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“The hatred is real, but at the same time, the opportunity for change is more real today than ever,” Rabbi Chaim Goldstein said. “The opportunity of people coming together and helping each other is something which is only getting stronger today than ever, even though despite the fact that there is still hatred in the world.”
During morning Shabbat services at Chabad of Poway, a gunman entered and opened fire, killing one and wounding three others.
Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died from injuries sustained in the attack. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who lost a finger in the shooting, described her as “a person of unconditional love” at a press conference.
The three injured include Goldstein, 57, who rushed immediately to get children and congregants to safety despite his own wounds; 8-year-old Noya Dahan, whose family had moved from the Israeli town of Sderot to find refuge from rocket bombardment; and Noya’s uncle Almog Peretz, 34, who was visiting from Israel and was shot while attempting to save his niece and other children.
The Chabad serving Drexel is planning a solidarity and memorial service on May 4, one of several events happening around the Philadelphia area to commemorate the shooting.
“As soon as we heard about it, we’re taking action,” Rabbi Chaim Goldstein said. “We’re spreading goodness. We’re telling everyone around us to continue in that vibe.”
The attack is the second shooting to have occurred at a synagogue in the last six months, and just one in a recent string of attacks on places of worship around the world.
An Anti-Defamation League report on anti-Semitic incidences in 2018, released on April 30, found a surge of incidences last year. The FBI’s 2017 hate crime statistics, released in November, also found an uptick in reported anti-Semitic incidents.
“Clearly, we have seen a number of religious-based atrocities in the last several months from Charleston to Pittsburgh; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Christchurch, New Zealand; Sri Lanka and now Poway, California,” Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer said. “Saying ‘Enough is enough’ is not even enough to say. We all need to be united against hate and address it, not just today after such a terrible occurrence, but by enacting a number of policy recommendations and changes to our laws.”
Baron-Baer learned of the attack when the Philadelphia Police Department reached out about providing additional security to places of worship in the immediate aftermath. Her reaction was “a combination of sadness, horror and anger.”
For the Chabad community, many did not learn of the attack until that night, after Shabbat and Passover had ended.
They are finding inspiration in a message of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. It was an idea repeated by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein at a press conference on April 28, as well as by other Chabad rabbis in the days since.
“The only way to deal with darkness is to bring light,” said Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, director of Lubavitch activities in Greater Philadelphia. “A little light dispels a lot of darkness but that little spark has to be a clear, pure spark.”
“We will continue to shine with the message that God mandated, and we should never lose focus. Focus is the light,” said his son, Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, director of Lubavitch of Bucks County. “Now, to keep the light going, we need to have some security guard at the shul.”
A GoFundMe called “Help Victims of Poway San Diego Synagogue Shooting,” started by 15-year-old Cameron Newman who lived in the Philadelphia area until two years ago, has already raised more than $110,000.
“When a synagogue is riddled with bullet holes, it’s not the time to wait around,” said Newman, who used to go to Lubavitch of Montgomery County. “They also would need it for medical expenses, of course, for those who are injured and for the funeral service of Lori Kaye, who unfortunately passed away, as well as for security reasons.”
On April 28, the day after the shooting, the Philadelphia Jewish community gathered at Congregation Rodeph Shalom on Broad Street.
They had come to commemorate the Holocaust at the 55th annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony, put on by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, but with the shooting having happened so recently, it became an opportunity to reflect on that as well.
The community “should remember that the Jewish Federation is working on this issue every day,” Jewish Federation President and CEO Naomi Adler said. “Not only the issue of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, but that we are working as much as possible to keep our Jewish community safe by ensuring that there are security assessments, creating more training opportunities, convening law enforcement — we just did that a few months ago to ensure that they understand the unique nature of Jewish institutions — and by employing a Jewish community security director, who is extremely busy these days.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0729