By Michael Hopkins and Tammy Gillies
Violence disrupted a house of worship in Poway one year ago today. On April 27, 2019, over 100 San Diegans were gathered together for religious services at Chabad of Poway, when a gunman with an AR-15 rifle opened fire, tragically killing Lori Gilbert Kaye and injuring three others — including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein — and violating the peace and safety of the entire community. This vicious attack occurred on the last day of Passover.
Within minutes, we were both on-site, trying to figure out what we, individually and through our organizations, could do to help those directly affected at Chabad and the entire San Diego Jewish community. At the same time, we both understood that those impacted would eventually include friends, schoolmates, co-workers and essentially anyone who knew someone present.
We know this heinous attack, like the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and the Hanukkah attack in Monsey, was an anti-Semitic act of violence. And in San Diego, this attack followed an act of arson a month before at the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido.
This was an attack targeting communities of faith.
This was an attack on everyone in San Diego.
This was an attack on humanity.
For hours, we sat with congregants in the nearby home of Rabbi Goldstein, praying and seeking solace. One of our most indelible memories was hearing the accounts of those who witnessed the day’s harrowing events. Many expressed shock — shock that a shooting could occur at their beloved congregation, and shock that something like this could happen in our community.
Worship and faith in America should not be an act of courage.
As a community we’ve worked hard to strengthen our partnerships since that horrible day. Jewish agencies and synagogues started deeper conversations with other communities impacted by rising tides of hate. Our commitment to the security of our local Jewish community is now visible with armed guards, which have become a continuous presence in our lives.
And today, hate crimes are escalating with extremists exploiting the pandemic. In what seems like an unimaginable act, hate groups are encouraging their members who are diagnosed with COVID-19 to intentionally spread the virus to innocent people and specifically targeting religious and ethnic groups. There has also been an emergence of racists attacked toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
The horrible truth is that acts of hate-filled violence can play out anytime, anywhere in our country, and beyond.
While hate feeds on fear for some people, we also know fear can ignite hope and unity. As a community, when we reach out and connect with one another, when we offer love and support to our neighbors, we become stronger and united. Solidarity against hate. Solidarity that love will always triumph.
The vigil held on the Monday after the tragedy was a powerful testament to the power of this solidarity. More than 4,000 people of all faiths, ages and backgrounds gathered at Poway High School, wearing blue and holding signs in tribute to the victims. Leaders asked community members to perform acts of kindness in remembrance of those who suffered or died that day. People from all walks of life wanted to be a part of this event and take a firm stand against the hate which had fractured — but not broken — our community.
Support poured in from across the nation and the world. The vigil was just the start of healing and understanding. We are so grateful and humbled to see that this love for one another continues to this day.
The Chabad shooting compelled San Diego leaders to take constructive action. Education promoting diversity and understanding is instrumental in the fight against hate and ignorance. The Anti-Defamation League of San Diego County continues to develop and teach programming, in over 100 schools countywide, addressing hate and bias in our society, holding town halls with both educators and students. And Jewish Family Service of San Diego continues to be a source of support when our community faces challenges and crises.
While a year has passed since that tragic day, it still feels like it was yesterday. One year ago, we came together as a community to make a stand. The collective resilience, compassion and strength of people from all across our community sent a resounding message: San Diego is no place for hate.
In times of tragedy and crisis, the easy thing to do is turn inward to our own group — religious, ethnic or otherwise. But what we saw following the Poway shooting and what we need to do today is turn outward. Embrace our differences, remember our shared connections and reach out to our neighbors. Now, more than ever, we are reminded that as individuals and as a community our health and wellbeing are inextricably connected.
As we support each other today and moving forward, let us remember this legacy of being united — neighbor with neighbor. We must. It is how we can all remember and honor the memory of Lori Kaye.
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