DC Chabad hosts solidarity event following San Diego synagogue shooting

On Saturday morning as the Jewish community in Poway, California were praying on the final day of Passover, an armed man entered the synagogue injuring three and killing one. Nearly six months since the massacre in Pittsburgh, PA at the Tree of Life Synagogue, six weeks after the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a week after the carnage in Sri Lanka, we once again gathered together to show our unwavering support for the communities and the victims.

We once again stood in solidarity against bigotry, ignorance, and hate. On Monday, April 29, the 2100 block of Leroy Place in Northwest, Washington, DC was closed off to traffic, as the Jewish community gathered together with its friends on the street to share a message of love, strength, and change.

Roughly 200 people gathered outside in the cold, while hundreds watched live online to hear Jewish community leaders, the Metropolitan Police Chief, and the Mayor speak. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) of Washington, DC, began by sharing the words of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare of the city, for in it you will find your own salvation.”

Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement and one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world. The shooting in San Diego took place at a Chabad synagogue.

Rabbi Shemtov speaking at the Time for Solidarity event. Photo by the author.

Rabbi Shemtov speaking at the Time for Solidarity event. Photo by the author.

“We’re here to be grateful for the fact that there was that miracle that saved more death from occurring — more senseless death — we’re here because we want to show who we are, and that we will never be afraid, and finally, we are here to send a message to anyone who might think of copying that evil man who perpetrated that act of terrorism on Saturday, and tell him and everyone like him and everyone who thinks like him: You will fail,” Rabbi Shemtov said.

“We cannot allow this violence to become normalized... It cannot become routine… We must maintain our humanity. We are all the children of the Almighty,” said Ron Halber.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, joined Rabbi Shemtov on the stage. He shared, “while we can’t control what people do, we can control our reaction to them,” adding “We will continue to lead proud, visible, vibrant and fulfilling Jewish lives.”

An example of such a proud, visible life is Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, a survivor of last week’s shooting. Lori Gilbert Kaye, the woman who was killed in the shooting, reportedly jumped between Goldstein and the gunman, saving the rabbi’s life and giving him time to warn others to flee. For Monday’s New York Times, Goldstein wrote “A Terrorist Tried to Kill Me Because I Am a Jew. I Will Never Back Down.”

He called the gathering in DC as he was on his way to the funeral of Kaye, a founding member of the synagogue, saying that “it was just 48 hours ago there was darkness and now there’s light” as we connect with friends around the world.

Later, Peter Newsham, Metropolitan Police chief reassured the crowd that law enforcement works to “give a visible presence to let you know… that we care… and hopefully provide you a level of security.” He told the crowd that one of the most important things after such a tragedy is that we share accurate information.

“While we gather in sadness… we also gather with a great sense of defiance”- Mayor Muriel Bowser

Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by the author.

Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by the author.

Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke to crowd about Washington, DC being a city of inclusion and diversity, saying “we will not give in to those who wish to divide us, so we will continue to fight hate with love.” Senseless hate crimes “destroys the religious fabric that holds many communities together,” she added.

Brandon Messian, a junior at GW and a board member of Chabad GW who grew up attending Chabad of Poway, told The Rival:

This is a terrible tragedy. It is very hard for me to turn on the TV and see the situation that my synagogue and community is going through. I am still in a state of total shock. After living in San Diego for my whole life, I never could have imagined such a horrific event happening in my hometown, let alone my own synagogue where I have been a member of for over two decades. I thought Poway was safe. Poway has in fact been one of the safest places to live in California for years. Who would've [sic] thought little old Poway? We should not have to live in fear like this. This should never happen again. Everything must be done to end this violence and hate.”

Rabbi Goldstein was Messian’s Rabbi, with whom he celebrated many events and who supported him through loss. Messian spoke highly of Lori Kaye, saying “she always greeted everyone with a warm smile and made sure all felt welcomed.”

The location of Chabad in DC, TheShul, had security presence before these recent tragedies. Rabbi Shemtov's family is warm and welcoming, and as our reaction to the shooting at Chabad of Poway, they challenge us to do one more mitzvah, one more good deed, and to get another to do the same.

CurrentShanni Alon