Leaders Struggle to Make Sense of Attack on Chabad Shul; Security Boosted in Shuls

(AP/Hamodia) —
chabad shooting
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore (L.) walks past the Chabad of Poway shul, April 27. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

After a woman was killed and Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein, the Rabbi of the community, suffered a gunshot wound to his hands and two others endured shrapnel wounds, political, civic and religious leaders across the country struggled to make sense of another fatal attack on a Jewish congregation six months after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh.

John T. Earnest, 19, surrendered to police after bursting into Chabad of Poway, north of San Diego, and opening fire with about 100 people inside, killing Mrs. Lori Gilbert Kaye, Hy”d, 60, and injuring Rabbi Goldstein, Noya Dahan, eight, and Almog Peretz, 34, authorities said.

Mrs. Kaye is survived by her husband and 22-year-old daughter.

Earnest, who had no previous contact with law enforcement, may be charged with a hate crime in addition to homicide, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. Earnest is also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.

“Any time somebody goes into a house of worship and shoots the congregants, in my book, that’s a hate crime,” Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said.

There were indications an AR-type assault weapon might have malfunctioned after the gunman fired numerous rounds inside, Gore said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard fired at the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, Gore said.

Shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said. When an officer reached him on a roadway, “the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” Nisleit said.

Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of Earnest’s social media posts, including what he described as a “manifesto.”

A person identifying themselves as John Earnest posted an anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack. The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at the congregation in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.

California State University, San Marcos, confirmed Earnest was a student on the dean’s list and said the school was “dismayed and disheartened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”

There was no known threat after Earnest was arrested, but authorities boosted patrols at places of worship as a precaution, police said.

Meanwhile, Chabad leaders worldwide are warning Jewish communities about the possibility of more anti-Semitic terrorist attacks like the San Diego shooting.

In a message put out after the shooting, Chabad leaders said that “our regional leaders are very worried about the security of every Chabad House and center in hundreds of communities in the U.S. and throughout the world.”

Chabad expressed its gratitude to the municipal and national agencies that worked closely with the organization to ensure the safety of community members.

Nevertheless, the statement warned, “Anti-Semitic violence in the U.S. has risen to a level that cannot be ignored. We are asking city council members and state legislators, federal agencies, media outlets, college professors, university leaders and schoolteachers to take responsibility and root out the gangrene [of anti-Semitism] that threatens the core values of this country.”

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, one of the senior Rabbinical figures in the Chabad organization, said, “The warning bells of recent events are tolling, and we call on leaders from both political sides to stop the dangerous spiral of anti-Semitism.”

The Chabad statement also condemned the San Diego shooting.

“As the Passover holiday ended, we learned of the shooting at a Chabad House, the murder of an innocent woman, and that others who were praying had been wounded. This is a horrific, heartbreaking incident,” the statement read.

The NYPD announced that it is placing special focus on protecting Jewish locations night following the deadly shooting.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that “as a precaution,” he has “directed State Police to increase their security presence at synagogues and houses of worship across the state.”

“We must come together during this troubling time to root out hate in all its forms and show the nation we will never be divided by these despicable acts of violence,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego County, said that “in the face of senseless hate we commit to live proudly as Jews in this glorious country. We strongly believe that love is exponentially more powerful than hate. We are deeply shaken by the loss of a true woman of valor, Lori Kaye, who lost her life solely for living as a Jew.”

President Donald Trump offered his sympathies Saturday. “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” the president said at a rally in Wisconsin. “We forcefully condemn the evils of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the attack on Sunday. “I condemn the abhorrent attack on a synagogue in California; this is an attack on the heart of the Jewish people. We send condolences to the family of Lori Gilbert Kaye and our best wishes for a quick recovery to the wounded. The international community must step up the struggle against anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu said.

In light of the upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks around the world, Netanyahu will convene a special discussion of all elements dealing with the issue this week.

U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt condemned the attack on Twitter: “Checked the news tonight after celebrating Passover; heartbroken to discover the horrible news about the deadly attack at a synagogue in Poway. We must gather together & fight the scourge of anti-Semitism. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of all those affected,” he said.

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