NJ community on guard after Poway shooting

NJ community on guard after Poway shooting

Locals gather at Chabad at Short Hills to mourn loss of life

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

About 200 people attended the Peace & Unity Gathering held two days after the April 27 shooting at Chabad of Poway
in Calif.  Photo by Johanna Ginsberg
About 200 people attended the Peace & Unity Gathering held two days after the April 27 shooting at Chabad of Poway in Calif. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg

In the wake of the shooting at Chabad of Poway on Saturday, April 27, the last day of Passover, that killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injured three others including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, James Morrison, a partner at Global Mark Security of Essex County in West Orange, has received numerous calls from synagogues and other institutions considering enhancing security.

The biggest problem with security for the Jewish community is that, “It requires a change in culture,” said Morrison. “People want security, but how do you balance that with openness?”

Some are adding officers for smaller events during the week, like board meetings. Others want to have additional training for active shooter events, he said. His firm provides security for 22 area synagogues, three JCCs (JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, JCC MetroWest in West Orange, and the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater), and area day schools, including the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, Golda Och Academy in West Orange, and RTW Gottesman Academy in Randolph.

Most already have significantly upgraded security at their facilities in the last few years, with cameras, surveillance systems, automatically locking doors, and security guards. His current suggestion includes keeping all doors locked with a guard at the door, and issuing ID cards to members that must be presented in order to enter, without exception. Any visitors should require advance arrangements, Morrison said.

Many synagogues have sent letters to congregants in the wake of Poway, ensuring that they are working closely with local police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, private security companies, and other law enforcement agencies.

Calling the attack in Poway “horrific,” Robert Wilson, chief security officer for Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, said in a statement that the shooting “demonstrates the persistent and lethal threat posed by domestic extremists motivated by a wide range of violent far-right extremist ideologies.” The statement added that federation “strongly advises that all organizations have in place a comprehensive Physical Protection System that integrates people, procedures, and equipment for the protection of our Jewish community against malevolent attacks.”

Rabbi Mendel Solomon assists Eden Lebovitch and Maya Solomon with the lighting of a memorial candle in memory of Calif. shooting victim Lori Gilbert-Kaye. Photo by Johanna Ginsberg

A time to mourn

On April 29, two days after the shooting, about 200 people came to Ahavath Torah: Chabad at Short Hills for a Peace & Unity Gathering.

“When will this stop?” asked Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ President Scott Krieger, and said it’s imperative on everyone to “promote community, love, and understanding across denominations, races, religions, and socioeconomics.”   

Rabbi Mendel Solomon of Ahavath Torah, who organized the event, was visibly shaken and pale as people started to arrive and sign a condolence book. His shock is understandable given his own experience. A native of London, Solomon would describe his Passover memory from when he was a child of someone attempting to stab his father with a knife at the holiday’s end in 1978.

“Unfortunately, this is not so foreign to me, but I would never have believed that I would be scared today,” he said, adding, as someone who knows first-hand, “When it’s this close to home, it shakes you to the core.” He asked that those in attendance respond to the tragedy with “Torah, tefillah, and tzedakah.”

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange attended the event but did not speak publicly. He admitted that he was disappointed that the attack was not generating the same attention — locally, and across the country — as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, founder of TheYeshiva.net, delivered the keynote address at Monday evening’s Peace & Unity Gathering held at Ahavath Torah: Chabad at Short Hills. Photo by Jerry Siskind

“Why isn’t this event getting the same kind of outpouring in public and on social media as Pittsburgh?” he wondered aloud to NJJN. “Do 11 people have to die to get that kind of response?” Perhaps, he suggested, we are just becoming inured to the violence.

Featured speaker Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson expressed shock at the explosion of anti-Semitism in the United States and urged everyone to observe new mitzvot in Gilbert-Kaye’s memory. Jacobson is the founding dean of TheYeshiva.net, the former editor-in-chief of The Algemeiner Journal, and a past leader of Congregation Bais Shmuel in New York. Several times he said “The soul of our country is in danger,” and called Jews the “canaries in the mines of history” and “the first targets.”

And he warned against apathy.

“Evil triumphs when good people sit back in their recliners, go through channels, give a sigh, and say, ‘Oy this is horrible,’ and go to bed.” He offered two biblical archetypes representing the two possible directions of the U.S.: Cain and Joseph. Cain famously asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” after killing his brother Abel. By contrast, Joseph tells a stranger at the beginning of his journey that will lead him to Egypt, “I am seeking my brothers.” It’s this attitude, Jacobson said, rather than that of Cain, that facilitates Joseph’s ability to better himself. “The transformation of a civilization can only begin when a brother says, ‘I’m searching for my brothers,’” he said. “It is the difference of these two statements on which the future of civilization hangs.”

Rabbi Mendel Solomon of Chabad at Short Hills addresses community members. Photo by Jerry Siskind

Representatives from the State Attorney General’s office and the Prosecutor’s offices also spoke, but no politicians were present.

In a touching moment, two young girls from Short Hills, Eden Lebovitch and Maya Solomon, lit a memorial candle for Gilbert-Kaye, and the gathering closed with the chanting of “Ani Ma’amin,” a song expressing Jewish principles of faith.

Before the program began, Jennifer Scher of Livingston, a member of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, said, “We all have to step forward and show how upset we are that we these things are going on a weekly basis.”

Ruth Miller of Livingston, a member of Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, said she came “to really pay our respects.”

“My kids have been on college campuses with Chabad, and I feel like it’s part of our family,” she said.

On May 1 a March for Love and Against Hate was scheduled to take place
in Westfield as well as a Holocaust Remembrance Day Inter-religious Commemoration and Poway Solidarity event in Montclair. Other local
events in the wake of Poway include:

Chabad of Randolph

Solidarity Shabbat with a memorial service for Lori Gilbert-Kaye on Saturday, May 4, from 11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Chai Center Chabad in Millburn

Shlissel Challah Baking in memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye Thursday evening, May 2, at 7:30 p.m.


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