The deadly attack at a synagogue near San Diego hit close to home for Rabbi Binyamin and Karen Bresinger of Montreal.
Their daughter is married to the son of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the spiritual leader of Chabad of Poway, where a gunman opened fire on April 27, killing a woman and injuring three others, including the rabbi.
The young couple, Devorah and Shuie Goldstein, who were married three years ago in New York, have lived in Poway, Calif., for the past two years. Their home is only 40 metres or so from the shul, where they run the Friendship Circle, a program for children with special needs, said Rabbi Bresinger.
Shuie Goldstein was on the bimah in the synagogue sanctuary when the gunman entered the building.
After hearing a gunshot, “He ran out a nearby exit – there are many at the synagogue – to home, to see that Devorah and their two children were all right, and then turned around and came back to the synagogue,” Rabbi Bresinger said.
By then, the police had arrived and everyone was held at the scene for six or seven hours, he said.
The Bresingers did not know what happened until hours later, because it was Shabbat. “The first we knew was when someone ran to our place to tell us there had been a shooting,” but the details were vague and their worry was intense, Rabbi Bresinger said.
They didn’t speak to their daughter until about 11 p.m. She was devastated by the death of Lori Kaye, who had been so welcoming when the couple moved there, he said.
The Bresingers, who are directors of Chabad Lifeline, an addiction support program, have been to Poway several times and knew Kaye personally. Karen Bresinger, who was last there in January, recalled how Kaye had expressed appreciation for the work Devorah Goldstein and her husband were doing.
That was characteristic of Kaye’s warm and positive personality. She was someone who always tried to make others feel good about themselves, Rabbi Bresinger said. He was sitting beside her husband only two weeks ago, when they attended the wedding of Rabbi Goldstein’s daughter in Brooklyn.
Rabbi Bresinger has high praise for the courage of Oscar Stewart, the army veteran who confronted the shooter. From what Rabbi Bresinger has been told, Stewart rushed toward the shooter and, although unarmed, screamed, “I’m going to kill you.” The shooter then ran away and got in his car.
Rabbi Bresinger also admires the leadership of Rabbi Goldstein, his machetun, who, despite his bloodied hands, immediately exhorted his congregants to “be strong, telling them they will endure and move forward to bring more light into the world,” Rabbi Bresinger said.
He noted that his daughter, a graduate of Beth Rivkah Academy, decided to go ahead with a scheduled Friendship Circle activity the next day and not give in to terror.
The Bresingers planned to be in Poway by May 2 and stay for a special Shabbat of commemoration.
Several hundred people attended “a gathering of unity, prayer and inspiration,” in response to the Poway attack, which was held at Chabad’s Montreal Torah Centre in Hampstead, Que., on April 29.
The event, under the watchful eye of police, was organized by Chabad Lubavitch of Montreal, the Jewish Community Council of Montreal (JCC Montreal), the Rabbinical Council of Canada and Federation CJA.
Among the speakers were Rabbi Binyomin Weiss, who serves a chief rabbi and av beit din at the JCC Montreal, and Sephardic chief rabbi of Quebec, Rabbi David Sabbah.
Rabbi Weiss urged every Jew to “resolve to continue our spiritual growth to improve ourselves and the world around us.… We will emerge more committed than ever to our timeless heritage.”
Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz, the retired spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah, said that, “Hate, violence and anti-Semitism should not be accepted as the norm.” All Jews have an obligation, he said, to continue to “celebrate life … and be a beacon of light.”
Federation president David Amiel affirmed that, “We are angry, but we will not allow a man of hate to make us hateful.”
Rabbi Saul Emanuel, JCC Montreal’s executive director, was more blunt. “Many have tried to finish us off,” he said. “But no matter how many of us they have tried to destroy, they have not succeeded and never will.”
Adherence to the Torah and the performance of mitzvot are what has ensured Jewish survival, he said.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, the director of the NDG Chabad, who was in Poway, stated: “We offer immense gratitude to God that the full scope of the perpetrator’s evil intent to commit mass murder was miraculously unrealized when his rifle inexplicably jammed, though tragically not before snuffing out the life of a most beautiful human being and injuring others.”
In the House of Commons on April 29, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather repeated the words of Rabbi Goldstein: “Am Yisra’el Chai. We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall.… Terrorism … will not take us down.”
Referring also to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre six months earlier, Housefather added that, “Before these murders, attacks on Jews at prayer did not happen in North America. Now, with neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville chanting ‘Jews will not replace us,’ with an anti-Semitic cartoon being run in the New York Times and with B’nai Brith reporting that over 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents occurred in Canada in 2018, we need a national action plan on anti-Semitism, and we need it now.”