Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein refused to go to the hospital. A man with an AR-15 had burst into his synagogue a little before noon April 27, shouted anti-Semitic slurs and opened fire on Goldstein’s congregation. Bullets hit Goldstein’s hands and took off a finger. But, as he waited for authorities to arrive and made sure everyone was accounted for, Goldstein continued his sermon.
Eliezer Gurary, a rabbi at Chapman, recounted parts of Goldstein’s story to an audience of about 50 April 29, under the glow of the interior lights of the Fish Interfaith Center. This marks Chapman’s third memorial for a religious-related violent crime in 2019.
“He turned to his congregation in agony, in pain,” Gurary told the audience. “And he said, he proclaimed, ‘We are strong. We are united. They can’t break us.’”
Faculty, students and community members were among the attendees of the service honoring the victims of the Chabad of Poway shooting in San Diego County April 27. Lori Kaye, 60, was killed shielding Goldstein, according to CNN. Two others besides Goldenstein were allegedly injured by the suspect, 19-year-old John T. Earnest, who was chased out of the synagogue by army veteran Oscar Stewart before fleeing the scene, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“My soul is tired. My heart is tired,” said Rabbi Corie Yutkin, Chapman’s director of Jewish Life, at the event. “I’m at a loss for words; I don’t have the words. I look for inspiration, I look to other leaders of my faith community, of other faith communities and I find comfort in the fact that others have the words when I am simply speechless.”
Just three days after the shooting, the Anti-Defamation league released a report showing a spike in anti-Semitic violence nationwide since 2016. California saw 341 incidents of anti-Semitic violence in 2018 and the national percentage has risen by 48 percent since 2016.
“Before Pittsburgh and before Charlottesville, before Christchurch and before Sri Lanka and before Poway, you may have taken all of this for granted, but no more,” Yutkin said at the podium. “It’s like that pile that you have in your house of clutter that you just keep walking by. You start not seeing it, until you trip over it. We have to be awakened to what is becoming the norm; we have to trip over those piles.”
Gail Stearns, dean of Chapman’s Wallace All Faiths Chapel, told The Panther that she thinks there is a connection between nationalism and hate crimes.
“Nationalism is causing a hatred against the other,” Stearns said. “The thing we’re not saying is that this is domestic terrorism.”
Pete Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman whose research focuses on hate crimes and white supremacy, said that extremist ideals are fueling the violence.
“(The shootings are) all based on this idea of white genocide, or replacement theory, which is that the white race is essentially on the verge of either being replaced or extinguished,” Simi told The Panther. “That white culture and white civilization, is being basically contaminated because of immigration and multiculturalism.”
At the April 29 service, some in the audience shared their perspectives about the shooting.
Rivka Pruss, a fifth-year student from California State University, Fullerton, spoke about Kaye. A student from Chapman, who mentioned he was a third-generation Holocaust survivor, talked about how the shooting took place on the third day of Passover. Another attendee said his high school-age son has been the target of multiple anti-Semitic comments.
“Community isn’t just leaders, it’s also the people that make it up,” Maddie Sher, a sophomore documentary major, told the Panther. “I think a lot of people that needed to get something off their chest had that opportunity today.”
Spencer Kaseff, president of Chapman Hillel, took to the podium to talk about the fear that comes with being Jewish.
“Each of these hate crimes have left me more bewildered than the last. It keeps happening, it keeps hurting and it doesn’t get any easier,” Kaseff said during the service. “I love my religion. It is incredibly important to me and the idea that I am more scared now than I’ve ever been to practice it scares me in it of itself. It’s confusing, it’s painful and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Chapman alumna and San Diego County native Jackie Cohen was in Dublin, Ireland when she heard the news.
“San Diego felt a safe place to be Jewish,” Cohen told The Panther. “It’s even more shocking that this week was Holocaust remembrance day. When something like this happens, most Jews feel rattled. It could be you.”
Cohen volunteered at the Chabad of Poway summer camp, Friendship Circle, while in high school.
“My mom currently volunteers with Friendship Circle. She met with the rabbi a week before shooting,” Cohen said. “We need to teach people about those who are different to themselves. Once you’ve talked to someone who is of another religion, you may see them as a person, not a stereotype.”
Simi said that social media has contributed to the spread of hate speech and while it’s not the only contributing factor, there need to be changes as propaganda can be spread easily.
“With social media (having) a large degree of angry, hateful, extreme kind of messages that get circulated to a large number of people, it gets amplified in these echo chambers,” Simi said.
In his speech at the service, Gurary also touched on how to stop the spread of hatred.
“The only way you defeat a bad, evil ideology is with a good and positive ideology,” Gurary said. “I encourage all of you to think at this moment, right here and right now, of one good deed you could do today in the next 24 hours.”