There was bitter irony in the fact that many of the worshippers who were attending services at the Chabad of Poway on Shabbos, the final day of Pesach, when a gunman entered and opened fire with an assault-style weapon, had come to say Yizkor in memory of departed relatives.
We mourn the death of Mrs. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, Hy”d.
The congregation’s leader, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, had himself had been seeking to protect others by trying to speak with the attacker.
The gunman, who has been identified as a 19-year-old student at California State University-San Marcos, John Earnest, had no compunctions about fatally shooting the 60-year-old woman, or about shooting the rabbi and two others at the shul, 31-year-old Almog Peretz and an 8-year-old girl, Noya Dahan.
After all, the shooter hated Jews, who, he screamed, according to an official involved in the investigation into the attack, were “ruining the world.”
The shooter later surrendered to authorities and was booked into San Diego Central Jail on one count of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree attempted murder, according to the San Diego Sheriff’s Inmate Website.
Part of the investigation immediately focused on a manifesto posted on an extremist internet message board by someone identifying himself with the shooter’s name. The posting was an anti-Semitic screed filled with racist slurs and white nationalist conspiracy theories. The writer claimed to have been inspired by last month’s massacre of Muslims in New Zealand — claiming he was responsible for a fire at a mosque in Escondido, California, last month — and last year’s of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, which the California attack followed by exactly six months.
Several hours before the shooting, the poster declared that “What I’ve learned here [on the website] is priceless,” and promised that “a livestream will begin shortly.” No such real-time recording seems to have been made by the murderer but, if the person posting was indeed the killer, the “priceless” guidance he received from other haters in fact exacted a terrible price.
The attack was another reminder of the unbridled hatred that, fertilized by lunacy and conspiracy theories, festers in twisted minds — and how it is not limited to the minds of the deluded but represents an all-too-real, clear and present danger. The danger is to all people, of course, these days — recent weeks have seen attacks on Christians and Muslims — but especially to Jews, the perennial targets of irrational animosity.
And the danger exists everywhere, even in a quiet community like Poway, about 25 miles north of San Diego, which prides itself on being “The City in the Country.” Hatred knows no bounds. Even the most seemingly idyllic of galus outposts are not immune to malign forces.
It was heartening, though, to see the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from Americans of all walks of life, and from both local and national officials. President Trump offered his sympathies from Washington. “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” he said. And he added that “We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated.”
Our deepest sympathies go out to the relatives and friends of Mrs. Gilbert-Kaye, and our tefillos for the full and speedy recovery of those wounded. Special recognition is due to Rabbi Goldstein and Mr. Peretz, who, along with the murdered congregant, stood up selflessly to protect other worshippers and children present in the shul.
Witnesses said Mr. Peretz grabbed children during the gunfire and ran with them to nearby exits, not even stopping when he was shot in the leg.
In the face of hatred and violence, the Jewish targets demonstrated love and protection. Such has been the norm amid such challenges.
Pesach celebrates Klal Yisrael’s deliverance from oppression, but the chag also reminds us that we remain in galus, with “Next year in Yerushalayim” its hopeful declaration.
For now, though, as Jews around the world read in their Haggados on the Seder nights, “in each and every generation there are those who rise up against us to destroy us.”
The worshippers at Chabad of Poway read those words mere days before they endured an all-too-real demonstration of their truth. May we merit that, when those haters make their evil plans, Hashem will, as the Haggadah continues, “save us from their hands.”