On April 29, approximately 300 community members joined government officials and leaders from Jewish organizations across Washington, D.C., at “A Time of Solidarity,” an event organized by American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) at the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Kalorama.
Two days earlier, on the last day of Passover, an anti-Semitic terror attack at Poway, California’s Chabad synagogue left one Jew dead and three injured. The aim of the solidarity event — which drew a large crowd despite being organized in less than 24 hours — was to demonstrate unity and support in the aftermath of this lethal assault on American Jews in their house of worship.
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham were in attendance, along with Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and Gil Preuss, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Leaders from Jewish organizations with a Washington, D.C., office were present as well, including representatives from AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and more.
“We are here to say to the Poway shooter and those who would think to imitate him, you will fail,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). “We are grateful for the presence of our city’s leadership, though we would all rather be doing something else. But as we come together in a show of solidarity, we must ask how someone from a seemingly normal upbringing ends up like that young man who committed such a horrible crime.”
Rabbi Shemtov voiced support for the implementation of a moment of silence to begin each school day, which the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, strongly recommended in his teachings. “Perhaps if a child has a moment at the beginning of the day to contemplate the essence and value of life, they might be less prone to act in the taking of life,” Rabbi Shemtov said, citing publicly available FBI data showing that in states with a mandatory moment of silence, juvenile crime has decreased up to 15 percent.
Two Poway residents spoke at the event as well.
Rochelle Behrens, who frequents TheSHUL of the Nation’s Capital at the Chabad Lubavitch Center, spoke about how the recent shooting had shattered the tranquility of that community.
Brandon Messian, a sophomore at The George Washington University and a board member of Chabad GW, grew up attending the synagogue that came under attack. He recalled important life events, such as his bar mitzvah and the recent passing of his father, presided over by Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Rabbi Goldstein, one of the three people injured by the terrorist, was riding in the funeral procession of victim Lori Kaye when he surprised Messian (and everyone at the DC event) by calling in and offering his support and gratitude for the strong solidarity.
On May 2, Rabbi Goldstein joined a Chabad-Lubavitch delegation at the White House, led by Rabbi Shemtov, for the National Day of Prayer in the Rose Garden. During his remarks, President Donald Trump acknowledged Rabbi Goldstein and called him to the podium.
Rabbi Goldstein thanked the president for calling him on the phone a few days earlier while he was deep in misery from the shooting and the funeral of his beloved congregant.
“You lifted me up,” he told the president.
Rabbi Goldstein then beseeched everyone to understand that while “we cannot control what others do, we can control our reactions.” People must fight darkness with light, acts of goodness, kindness, and decency to combat evil, he urged.
The president then recognized two other members of the delegation from Poway: the U.S. military veteran who had challenged the synagogue shooter, stunning him in middle of the attack, and the armed off-duty Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who gave chase and fired at the gunman, causing him to flee the premises. Both were worshipping at the Chabad of Poway synagogue at the time of the shooting.
By Kol HaBirah Staff