BOSTON – A day after a gunman burst into a California synagogue with a semi-automatic rifle and killed a woman, and injured three – including the congregation’s rabbi – Greater Boston Jewish leaders and state officials gathered at a vigil at the New England Holocaust Memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the deadly shooting.
“I know I speak for the people of Massachusetts when I say we love you,” said Governor Charlie Baker, who attended the vigil with his wife Lauren. “We love you for your faith, we love you for the dignity that you bring to your religion and we love you for the role you play in your community.”
As Baker addressed the crowd, many were still in shock and learning the details of the second deadly attack on a U.S. synagogue in the last six months. The shooting occurred at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, CA. just before the congregation was about to begin its Yizkor memorial service to remember the deceased. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who had planned to attend Yizkor to remember her mother, was killed by the 19-year-old shooter. The injured include Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who founded Chabad of Poway, and two Israelis: Almog Peretz, an Israel Defense Forces veteran, and his eight-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, formerly of Sderot.
As he was preparing to lead the Yizkor service, Goldstein came face-to-face with the shooter. With a rifle pointed at his head, Goldstein razed his hands – which deflected the bullets (he would later lose a finger during surgery). He then grabbed a tallis, wrapped it around his hands to stop the blood flow, and ran toward the synagogue ballroom and led congregants out of the building.
During the attack, the shooter’s gun jammed and at least two congregants chased him out of the building with one firing at the shooter’s car. A congregant followed the shooter, who was immediately arrested.
After he realized the shooter had left the synagogue, Goldstein ran back to the lobby where he found Lori Gilbert-Kaye who was unresponsive. He also found her husband, a doctor, who had fainted after realizing that he was trying to save his wife’s life. Meanwhile, their daughter hovered over them, overcome with grief. “It felt like forever before the paramedics arrived. They had to wait for the police to give them the all-clear before entering the building,” Goldstein told Chabad.org.
As the congregation gathered outside, Goldstein declined medical treatment until all of the congregants were accounted for. He consoled them with these words: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” He also told them to remain as one people. “I remember shouting the words Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live! I have said that line hundreds of times in my life. But I have never felt the truth of it more than I did then.”
According to Chabad.org, Kaye had been a congregant at Chabad of Poway for 25 years. She would bring gifts of challah and flowers to people going through a rough time. When a community member was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was Kaye who volunteered to drive her to all of her appointments. “She was all about chesed – kindness towards others,” said Goldstein. “She was an activist; a doer. It’s a catastrophe beyond description.”
The attack occurred six months after a gunman killed 11 Jews during a Shabbat service at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. Just before Saturday’s shooting, the attacker posted a message on social media filled with anti-Semitic tropes and advocating for white supremacy. He listed the Pittsburgh shooter as an inspiration for the attack.
At Sunday’s vigil, Rabbi Marc Baker, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, reassured the crowd of about 100 that area Jews will not be threatened. “On the practical and physical levels, we will stand firm against anti-Semitism in all of its forms from wherever it comes,” said Baker. “We will not retreat in fear, we will not allow ourselves to feel threatened, we will double down on our efforts to ensure that every member of our community can confidently and safely practice, pray, celebrate in their ways and in our houses of worship.”
Layah Lipsker, co-founder of Chabad of the North Shore, also spoke at the event along with her husband Rabbi Yossi Lipsker. Layah Lipsker’s father established the first Chabad center in San Diego in 1971, and her cousin is the director of the preschool at Chabad of Poway.
“I don’t know Rabbi Goldstein but I am blown away by his courage and his selfless act of bravery,” she said. “My friends, we don’t need to wait for tragedy to strike to be courageous. Right now, each of us is facing some force, either internal or external, that needs to be overcome. Someone needs more love, more attention; more kindness. Someone we know needs to be lifted up and be told to back down. It is true that hateful rhetoric is contagious and can spread like wildfire. But so can courage. So can love.”
The 100 who attended the vigil expressed feelings that ranged from fear to resolve. “I belong to a synagogue and we have to be worried about security,” said Juliette Landesman of Brookline. “Unfortunately, there are people out there who don’t like us because we’re breathing.”
Debbie Shalom, board chair of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, said the only answer to incidents like these is to educate. “This is a terrible thing, and we have to work to fight hate. We have to educate – we have to start with the young, and teach tolerance, and stop the hate,” said Shalom.