For Rabbi Dovid Dubov, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Mercer County, the shootings at Poway Chabad in California felt personal: Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was injured in the attack, is a childhood friend.
“I learned with him,” Dubov said. “I studied with him. I was one class older than him, and we lived a few blocks from each other so it really touches home.”
Following the April 27 attack, which killed one person and injured Goldstein and two others in the synagogue outside San Diego, NJJN spoke with local leaders who shared a common message about vigilance regarding security and the need for unity among all people.
“For thousands of years, any challenge we had, we never buckled under, we never gave in,” said Dubov. But, he continued, “in the depths of our heart we believe firmly that all this anti-Semitism, this entire challenge against all humanity, will eventually vanish from the world.” The community can accomplish this, he said, by working together “to eradicate this cancer.”
For Dubov, teaching faith is the only effective antidote to people “being attacked because of their color and their native country.” He advised teaching children “to believe in the Creator of heaven and earth, Who created the entire universe and all mankind.” From this they learn “to respect other people and to honor life and to cherish our responsibilities from one human being to another.”
Rabbi Brian Beal, interim rabbi at the Reform Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, expressed a similar message.
“The best we can do is be vigilant about our safety and at the same time continue to educate and build partnerships with people of other faiths and races,” he said. “The better we understand each other and know each other, the better the chance we have of bringing goodness and light to the world.”
Congregation Beth Chaim, Beal said, has “a very close relationship with the interfaith community — not only a relationship from clergy to clergy, but lay leaders to lay leaders, and members to members.”
Dubov also engages in interfaith partnerships. He said that when he meets with Muslim and Christian clergy, he always starts by sharing his belief in God and emphasizing the need to respect one another. Everyone, he said, “should speak about unity, about how we all together can help the world to become better.”
“The stronger we stand together in teaching moral and ethical values and believing in one God Who created heaven and earth — this is the secret of success,” he said.
Another theme raised by area leaders is the importance of standing together proudly as Jews in the face of hate. In fact, moving “away from your heritage” is a “goal of the terrorist,” according to Dubov.
In an email to NJJN, Rabbi Yitzchak Goldenberg, director of Chabad of Lawrenceville and spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Lawrenceville, wrote, “We have survived the worst destruction, and we will always endure. Many of our ancestors gave their lives so we can live in freedom in America, and [following the Poway tragedy] we will be even more proudly and openly Jewish than ever before.”
Goldenberg also urged his fellow Jews “to embrace their heritage by living more Jewishly and doing more mitzvot and random acts of compassion and kindness.”
In the wake of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 that left 11 congregants dead, many synagogues have already upgraded their security through measures such as hiring security guards, increasing surveillance, and keeping doors locked.
The Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, working with the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as local police departments, shares advisories and guidance with area synagogues, Beal said.
Linda Meisel, president of the Conservative Jewish Center in Princeton, said that her congregation is committed to ensuring congregants’ safety, but she has a hard time accepting this new reality. “You don’t want to believe you live in a country where people are targeting others,” she said. “But that is the reality, and we need to address it so we’re all safe.”
For community leaders, the balance of enhancing security while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere is a delicate one. “All synagogues want to be warm and welcoming of not only our members, but of everyone who wants to walk through our doors,” said Beal. “To have to pause every time you open the door and think is the challenge that now exists in today’s world.”
Area congregations are remembering the Poway tragedy at congregational meetings, Shabbat services, and communal gatherings. At the beginning of a previously scheduled congregational meeting the day after the shooting, Beal invited attendees to sing Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach,” a blessing for healing, “for those who were injured and suffering emotionally and spiritually.” It was followed by a musical blessing for peace, which for Beal means “love between people and that we will work and partner with God to eliminate hatred and terror throughout the world.”
Dubov said he has “gotten so many calls — people want to come to shul and show solidarity,” and Goldenberg’s Young Israel and Chabad of Lawrenceville were set to observe a “Shabbat of solidarity and unity” on May 4.
As part of the American Jewish Committee’s #TriStateAgainstHate, Rabbi Adam Feldman and Jewish Center members will attend noon services at the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey on Friday, May 10. The next day, the Islamic Society’s imam, Hamad Ahmad Chebli, and some of his congregants will attend Shabbat morning services at the Jewish Center.
In memory of the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, many of whom were elderly, the Princeton Chabad community commissioned a five-pound, accessible Torah. “We can’t bring back what happened, but we can move forward and do good things to make the world better,” Dubov said.
“You should turn darkness into light — that’s the motto the Rebbe taught us,” said Dubov, referring to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. “Every time we are attacked, we should look at it as a challenge and wrack our brains about how we can correct the problem and make the world better.”