Wounded rabbi pleads for people to stand up to anti-Semitism by filling temples
Mario Tama/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) — Answering the call of a rabbi wounded in the shooting at a Southern California synagogue, scores of people have been filling temples coast to coast to stand up to anti-Semitism and more are planning to do so as the first Shabbat service since the attack approaches.
Following the rampage Saturday at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in both hands in the attack, sent out a plea for Jewish people to pack houses of worship this Friday and Saturday.
In an interview with ABC News, Goldstein said he believes he survived the attack in order to the spread a message of love.
“I say to all Americans, no matter what religion you are, we’re here in America because God gave us a country that allows us to have religious freedom,” Goldstein said. “God gives us constitutional rights to be here and to be proud Jews and we’re not going to let anyone take it away from us. And this is what we’re going to take away from this.”
“I have encouraged people of Jewish faith, this Friday and Saturday, fill up your synagogues,” he said. “Show them that it’s not going to deter us. We’re not going to give in to terrorism. Terrorism will not win. But peace and love will.”
On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the Jewish community in the United States experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, with attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions doubling in number. The ADL recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents across the country in 2018, the third-highest year on record since the organization began tracking such data in the 1970s.
Those incidents included cases of assaults, harassment, and vandalism.
Marnie Fienberg, whose mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, was among 11 people killed when a gunman attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, told ABC News that she heard of the California synagogue just hours after she attended a prayer service for the victims of the Pittsburgh attack.
“My first reaction when I heard the news in California, was once again I was thrown back to Pittsburgh,” she said. “There’s a prayer service at the end of Passover that memorializes people who have died. And we had just spent a very emotional morning thinking about, praying for my mother-in-law and the other 10 that had died. So to have this happen again on that day was absolutely devastating. … I cannot believe this is happening again.”
She said the shooting came about a week after she helped organize what she dubbed a “2 for Seder,” an initiative that encourages Jews to invite two non-Jewish friends to a Seder dinner. She said about 2,000 people participate in the event across the United States, Europe, Israel, and South America. Even a couple climbing Mt. Everest held a Seder at the Everest base camp.
“The enthusiasm and the desire to have positive dialogue from everyone, from folks that are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindi,” Fienberg said. “They were all very excited to have a framework and a point where we can say, ‘Now’s gonna be an appropriate time to talk about religion.’ And I think that it was something people needed at this time. But I think based on what we’ve just seen on Saturday, we need to continue this.”
Responding to Goldstein’s call to fill temples, congregants packed the Beth Menachem Chabad of Newton, Massachusetts, Monday night for a special prayer service for a 60-year-old victim who died in the California shooting, Lori Kaye, and survivors of the attack.
“We are living in a land of freedom of religion. That freedom is gone when you have to pray behind a locked door with a police officer outside,” congregation member Devora Baronofsky told ABC affiliate station WCVB-TV in Boston.
People also filled the Holocaust Memorial in Boston to condemn the California shooting and anti-Semitism.
“We’re with you, we stand with you,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
The Jewish community and its supporters also held a gathering Monday night at Poway High School stand together against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.
“We should not be afraid,” Tammy Gillies, regional director of the ADL of San Diego, told the crowd. “We’re coming together against hate.”
Rabbi Moshe Matz of the grassroots advocacy group Agudath Israel of Florida was called on Monday to lead a prayer to honor the victims of the Chabad of Poway shooting on the floor of the Florida State Senate, where leader unanimously passed a anti-Semitism bill prohibiting religious discrimination in the state’s public education system.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sent out a message on Monday which noted that the Chabad of Poway shooting came on the heels of the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead, and the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka at Christian churches and hotels, which took the lives of more than 350 people.
“The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement,” Guterres said in the statement.
Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel of the Chabad of Nashville said he will lead Shabbat services this Friday and Saturday at his synagogue with the spirit of Goldstein’s message on his mind.
“As Rabbi Goldstein said in his words, ‘We are a united community and we the Jewish people have, are and will live on forever and more,” Tiechtel told ABC News on Tuesday. “It’s a time of pain and a challenge when something like this happens. I think the way to eradicate hate is with teaching love.”
He said the general philosophy in Judaism is to “push away darkness with light.”
Tiechtel said that his brother is the chief rabbi in Berlin, Germany, and that his family — which lost many relatives in the Holocaust — was against him moving to Germany more than 20 years ago.
“My grandfather was not happy that he was moving there, but two years after he was there, my grandfather said to him, ‘This is the best revenge for Hitler,” Tiechtel said.
He noted that this past Hanukkah, Germany’s president lit a 30-foot-tall menorah at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, where in the 1930s and early 1940s Nazi flags flew under Hitler’s Third Reich.
“That’s what I mean — to turn darkness into light,” he said.
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