The Poway Chabad Shooting—Yet Another Anti-Semitic Nightmare

Through tears—both his and mine, I listened to Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Poway Chabad recount his horrific experience as John T. Earnest, the hate-filled shooter terrorized the rabbi’s Jewish congregation. The assailant is 19 years old and the mom in me wonders what turned him toward extreme hatred. What a waste of humanity.

The rabbi was left with nine fingers and a broken heart, losing his dear friend Lori Gilbert-Kaye who he said was a woman filled with unconditional love, who protected her long-time friend from the bullets and gave her life for her effort.

The rabbi shared a scene that he said he would never be able to forget. He saw Lori’s husband (who is a doctor), also a friend of the rabbi’s who he described as being “like a brother,” try desperately to revive his wife. It didn’t work and filled with grief, he fainted. Followed by their daughter, Hannah, screaming Mommy! Daddy! when she saw the incomprehensible scene as her parents lie motionless on the ground.

Thankfully the gunman’s rifle had jammed or the number of victims could have been much worse. As it was, there was one dead and three wounded. The perpetrator called the police himself to notify them of what he had proudly done.

It was exactly six months since the horrific Tree of Life synagogue murders. Earnest posted his intentions filled with anti-Semitic vitriol online, with live streaming promised with the music already chosen. His post copied Brenton Tarrant’s writings left hours before opening fire at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. I had hoped our Jewish and Muslim communities would join in Peace—not in death. I asked myself why is this happening again?

I listened to stories of the wounded. An Israeli war veteran who was there, too familiar with these types of incidences, took a bullet to his leg as he ran to help the rabbi, protect the children and get them out of harm’s way.

Some service attendees were congregants and visitors from Sderot, Israel. I assumed they had moved here to escape the constant terrorist bombings, car rammings, incendiary kites and balloons from the Palestinians sent against Israel—to be safe in the United States. The thought hurt my heart.

It reminded me of when we were in Eilat, Israel. I write about our experience in my book, “Blasted from Complacency: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel.” I’m excited that it soon will be available for pre-sale as an ebook.

During the day when we were caught in a tremendous traffic jam as we made our way to the far south of Israel to Eilat, I asked our tour guide if it was always like this?

He assured me it wasn’t and explained that in part it was due to Israelis from Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod trying to escape the constant bombing and heading for the resort of Eilat to get some relief.

And then as we ran to the bomb shelter at 1 a.m., the first of three times that morning our luck had run out—the Palestinian missiles had finally caught up with us. Boom! I cringed from the frightening, forceful sound. First one blast and then another. Boom! We could feel the prickling percussion of the exploding Palestinian missiles against our skin.

I noticed a beautiful Israeli woman dressed in a pretty pink baby-doll nightie. She seemed about 30. Her eyes were as big as saucers, and she instinctively held her innocent little girl close to her chest. She looked like she had PTSD. I was surprised to see that expression on her face; Israelis are used to this, aren’t they? The Israelis I had met on this trip and even before were much more emotionally armored. In my ignorance, I asked her, “Are you OK?”

“No, I’m not OK!” she replied with tears in her eyes. “We’re from Ashkelon. We came down to Eilat to get away from constant bombing, but there’s no escape!” She said it with a look of sad desperation. I felt impotent. What do you say to someone with such a tragic existence? Terror’s evil reality was blistered on her face. I muttered an inadequate, “I’m sorry.”

Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot are three cities close to Gaza that are constantly being tormented with Palestinian missiles. There’s only so much a person’s nerves can take. Their violent reality that they had hoped had been left behind in Israel followed them—adding another cruel, anguished layer to their life. But the Poway shooting happened here in our United States of America!

When will it end? When will it be enough and stop? When will we look upon each other as simply human? On April 14, just a couple weeks ago I published Who Let the Anti-Semitism of the 20th Century Out of the Bag in 2019? and now this? I covered how anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the world.

As American Jews we want to believe we are safe and accepted at home—religious freedom is a defended American right, isn’t it? But it’s getting increasingly uncomfortable to reveal in public that we are Jewish. Anti-Semitism sometimes is hidden behind anti-Zionism but when you listen closely to the rhetoric the truth becomes sickeningly apparent. The sad pain of the past drips off the lips of bigots with comments of Jewish economic control, the blood libel, conspiracy theory, and who killed Jesus. Lies and more lies, yet the perpetrators believe them as if they were gospel.

We, too, were in temple that morning celebrating Passover—all Jews attending synagogue were studying the Torah texts of Passover no matter what temple they were attending.

I think it was a record for my husband and I going to temple both Friday night and Saturday morning when it wasn’t the BIG HOLIDAY—Yom Kippur. Friday night was to be a new type of meditative service and it was filled with prayer, song, and contemplation. Since I am very much into meditation, I was curious, wanted to attend and enjoyed my experience.

Saturday, our rabbi had asked my husband to come play the djembe (African drum) as we celebrated the final day of Passover. We heard the rhythmic beating of the drum and the joyous clapping and pounding on the schtender (podium) of Jews enjoying the melodic prayers. But for the Grace of God we were in Orange County and not San Diego—really not that far away. In my way of thinking, too close for comfort. It seems of late a consistent pattern that the Universe doesn’t want me to become complacent.

Passover is a celebration of the Jews escaping slavery by the Egyptians. Year after year we celebrate—we were finally free…or are we? Part of the service is a memorial ceremony to remember loved ones who have passed. That day the Poway congregation added one more fine soul to be remembered not only by her friends, but by the world.

After we returned home and heard the news about more violence against our people, I couldn’t help but feel less free emotionally and wondered if our safety has been an illusion. Anti-semitic acts are significantly on the rise in the U.S. and throughout the world.  More attacks in synagogues, the ever-present Nazi curse still exists, seen vividly with swastikas painted on our graves, and the BDS and SJP movements attacking our kids on college campuses—it has to stop! We even see these anti-Semitic remarks infesting our Congress. It makes me sad, ashamed and scared.

Will the religions of the world band together and keep each other safe? In the news of late, Jews have been shot, Muslims have been murdered, and Christians have been killed. Will the good people of the world join together—you don’t have to be religious to be a great person and understand oppression and doing harm to others is WRONG! Time will tell. The Holocaust slithers through my thoughts and I wonder again what can be done to stop this contagion of hate.

Rabbi Goldstein asked that we all do random acts of kindness and to let more light into the world to fight the darkness. I would ask each one of us what could be done to put more love out into the world. Simple acts can go a long way just to make another person’s day just a little brighter whether it’s a smile, a thank you or an act of kindness. They won’t bring back his beloved friend, but at least it will be a step in the right direction. May Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s memory be a blessing upon all who knew and loved her and upon the world.

Peace, שלום, سلام,

As always I invite you to Join Me On My Journey . . .