Standing on a chair with his bloody hand wrapped in a Tallit, Rabbi Goldstein told his congregation gathered around him outside the synagogue “Am Yisroel Chai! Nothing is going to bring us down!”
A short time earlier, a nineteen-year-old gunman entered the synagogue with a rifle, intent on killing Jews. The attack came as congregants of the Chabad of Poway in Southern California finished the Torah reading for the last day of Passover. In the foyer, he first shot and killed congregant Lori Kaye, 60, and wounded three others including an eight-year-old before his gun jammed and he fled, pursued by an armed congregant.
“I ask that we all do something, something to add more light to combat this evil darkness that is out there. And that can happen through acts of compassion and loving-kindness,” said Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein said in an interview fresh out of surgery.
Rabbi Goldstein described Kaye as a pioneering founding member of the congregation and someone who was filled with loving-kindness, according to the Associated Press.
Accounts of the attack vary as inaccurate social media posts spread online and seeped into news reports. One version that seems to be close to the source, shared by Rabbi Goldstein’s colleague Boruch Wolf on Facebook, tells of how Rabbi Goldstein encountered the shooter after leaving the sanctuary for ritual handwashing:
Rabbi Goldstein excused himself from services briefly to wash his hands, etc., in the foyer immediately prior to the Yizkor (remembrance) service. It was while he was in the foyer area [that] the shots rang out, and he saw the fatality, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, fall to the ground. He noticed the shooter with his gun and managed to get his hand on it attempting to wrestle it out to protect his congregation. It was at that moment that the gun discharged blowing off two of Rabbi Goldstein’s fingers. No more bullets exited the barrel as the gun jammed following the scuffle.
Whether or not the rabbi actually “managed to get his hand” on the weapon is unclear from other reports, but Goldstein said the jamming of the gun was one of many miracles that prevented the shooter from entering the sanctuary and killing and wounding many more victims. In a video posted by Chabad, Rabbi Goldstein describes how after the shooter failed to kill him and his gun jammed, Goldstein says he ran to usher children outside to safety, including his granddaughter. Despite the shock and recovering from surgery, Rabbi Goldstein has tirelessly spoken of the character of Lori Kaye, the strength of his faith community, and how this tragedy is an opportunity to bring more light into the world.
“Beneath the surface of every terrible experience there lies an opportunity to grow and increase, increase in goodness,” Goldstein said.
The attack came exactly six months after the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the U.S. at a Pittsburgh synagogue left eleven dead. The nineteen-year-old shooter in Poway reportedly idolized the Pittsburgh shooter and the shooter in the New Zealand mosque attack. A ranting manifesto he allegedly posted online before the attack is filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric and some reports say he screamed “F*** the Jews” as he entered the synagogue.
Anti-Semitic and white nationalist/neo-Nazi attacks in the U.S. and Europe set record highs in 2018 and houses of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews, even Messianic Jews, have become targets for terrorists.
Such attacks have prompted calls for better security at religious institutions, including from Goldstein. On Saturday, an off-duty border patrol agent whom Goldstein said had recently discovered his Judaism, pursued the shooter with his own weapon and fired at the vehicle as the perpetrator fled. Shortly after, the gunman called 911 and reported himself to the police who arrested him on the road without incident.
In the wake of the attack, support for the victims has poured in from around the world and the broader Jewish community. The local community has rallied with signs calling for peace, and saying, “We are better than this.”
Rabbi Goldstein has repeatedly implored that the result of this attack be an outpouring of additional acts of kindness and love around the world. He urged Jews to do so and to fill up their local synagogues this coming Sabbath as a bold symbol that the Jewish people live.
“Let them see that nothing will take us down,” Goldstein said. “Jewish unity is what we need now more than ever.”