Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Poway, California Chabad synagogue which was targeted by a gunman on Saturday in an attack that murdered congregant Lori Kaye, 60, and shot and wounded an eight-year-old girl and her uncle, spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night and called for restoring prayer in public schools with a moment of silence for schoolchildren to connect with God. Goldstein also lauded President Trump, who spent 15 minutes on the phone consoling him after the attack.
Cooper stated, “I think it’s important for people to know what happened to you, your congregation, to us all, as you told me before the break. What do you remember about what went on?”
Sadly, it’s a memory that I’ll never forget as long as I live. Losing a finger is a scar; the finger’s never going to grow back, but I’m going to grow stronger from it. Saturday morning we come to services; it’s the last day of Passover. We just had seven days of celebrating our Jewish freedom and independence.
At 11:00, I was getting ready to prepare for my sermon and to read from the Prophets. I go to my office to freshen up; I come back out; I see Lori; she asks me what time is the memorial service, letting me know that her daughter, her only daughter, Hannah, her only child, is coming from LA to sit with her for the special occasion. I come out of my office; I see her once again, that’s the last time I’m going to see her, and we smile at each other, nodding at each other and I’m walking toward the ballroom where the washing sink is. As soon as I turn my back, within seconds, I hear the blasts of these four loud blast noises. I don’t know what it is; I think it’s maybe a table turned over. I turn around and I see this gunman, a young teenager standing eye-to-eye with me, his gun, his rifle, facing right at me.
I know that in the ballroom behind me are the children playing; my two grandchildren were there. My grandson was sleeping in the stroller. I turn around to save them and the gunfire erupts again right at me. My hands in reflex fly up and my fingers get shot out. I run and I grab the children and I shout at the top of my voice everyone should evacuate. I bring the children to safety; I come back and there’s utter silence and I’m fearing the worst. And I’m fearing that every member of my family, congregation were just murdered.
But I come back to discover that the gunman, the shooter, the murderer, the terrorist, has fled the scene and that most of my congregation was alive with the exception of Lori Kaye, who is laying there on the floor. Her husband, Dr. Howard, to try to resuscitate her. He passes out and faints; their daughter Hannah comes out leaning over her parents on the floor. A sight out of the pogrom days. A sight out of the Holocaust Krystallnacht days. This doesn’t belong in Poway, California. This doesn’t belong in the United States of America. We have the constitutional right to be free people, to practice religion in freedom. We came here running from the darkness of the Holocaust to a safe haven, to be free people, and now we’re being gunned down in our house of worship? This is wrong.
I go and I assess the situation, and I see how distraught my congregants are; I see where they are all huddled in shelter; I get up on a chair and I scream out loud with my finger dangling and bleeding, and I say the most powerful words, “Am Yisrael Chai. The nation of Israel is alive! And do not fear and do not falter, because God is protecting us, and we will survive and we will grow and we will get stronger and stronger! No terrorist will take us down! No darkness and evil in the world will take us down!” For thousands of years there’s been Holocausts, genocides, pogroms; anti-Semitism has risen again in America in the overt. This man wrote a manifesto; two months he was planning this massacre. He had hate and evil in him.
This must stop, and I’m hoping that the tragedy that happened at our congregation would be the impetus to rethink what is the problem, why have we gone wrong. America was built on religious values. In God we trust. Our Founding Fathers of America wanted our children to grow up with God in their lives, with a spiritual life to them. Why did they take prayer out of the public schools? When Ronald Reagan was shot, my rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, launched a campaign that the public schools should introduce a moment of silence. And I’m hoping to get legislation to reintroduce that, that children when they start their day should take a moment of silence to think about themselves and to realize that they are children of God, that they have a soul, that they are created in the image of God, to value life, and to value more of life than just the materialism, that there’s a spiritual dimension to life.
I want to conclude that people should realize and recognize that God has given us a blessed country, United States of America. Amazing values which we are so grateful for. Let’s go back to the basics. Let’s bring back the religious freedoms that we had; let’s give our children the opportunity to have a moment of silence; let’s embrace each other and I gotta tell you, the love that I have had from all religions has been incredible. The togetherness, the unity all across the board that came to us in Poway is the American spirit.
I had a phone call yesterday from our president, Mr. Donald Trump, who spent fifteen minutes with me, comforting me, consoling me, he shared my pain, and for me, that was such a blessing, he brought comfort to us, that the United States of America would take fifteen minutes of his day to review what happened and to bring comfort and consolation to us. And we are very blessed and thankful for that.