ROCKVILLE – Several hundred people gathered April 29 at the Bender Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Rockville in a show of solidarity with the Jewish community of Poway, California, where one woman was killed and three others injured as they attended synagogue services.
“Yet again we need to stand together,” said JCC President and CEO Michael Feinstein. “When one Jewish community is attacked, all are attacked.”
Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, suggested that to end acts of violence and hatred, “We need to individually and collectively fight back every time we hear a statement of hatred.”
He urged people to “Take on the hatred everywhere,” and not just from people who disagree with your politics.
Also, Preuss said, “We need to fight the hatred with acts of good deeds.”
People need to “make a statement this is not what we are about. That’s not what this country is about,” he said.
County Executive Marc Elrich called the shooting “heartbreaking,” and said, “Our best defense is being strong and working together. We are all in this together.”
He told the audience, “There is an abundance of crazy people, filled with hate, and we are all their victims.”
However, when he went on to indirectly criticize President Donald Trump and his administration, the crowd turned on him. Someone shouted out, “Don’t make this political.”
Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch, the same Jewish movement of the synagogue in which the shooting occurred, also spoke at the event.
Parents must teach their children good values, he said.
More guns or security cameras are not going to end the violence, he said. “We need to recognize and teach the common humanity that all of us around the world share.”
Also, he advised, avoid violence on television and movies and turn to God.
Free speech comes with a cost, he told the interfaith crowd. “Words of anger, words of hate matter. They leave an impact and someone down the road pays for that speech.”
During the one-hour event, a video was shown of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the spiritual leader of the Poway congregation, who was shot and lost his right index finger.
Speaking from his hospital bed less than 24 hours after the shooting, Goldstein declared that nothing would stop him or his congregation from continuing.
He recalled the event, noting he was washing his hands and preparing to read from the pulpit when “I heard the first shot.”
He turned and went toward the shooting, where he then “locked eyes” with the shooter.
“I lifted my hands to my face,” Goldstein said.
Despite being shot in the hands and bleeding, the rabbi said he then ushered a group of nearby children, including his grandchild, out of the synagogue.
“I got all members to leave. Miraculously, miraculously his gun jammed,” the rabbi recalled.
A congregant who works for the U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement obtained a gun and together with others, forced the shooter to leave.
Police have arrested 19-year-old John Earnest in the killing.
Rabbi Goldstein then told the largely-Jewish audience, “Fill up your synagogue this weekend. Let them see that nothing will take us down.”
As she waited for the event to start, M. Goldstein of Potomac expressed hope that anti-Semitism and hatred would end.
“People come to these kinds of things because they want to give emotional support, and it makes them feel like they have taken some action, but does it really do anything?” she wondered.
“That is the question, what would make the difference?”
Goldstein said she wanted to see increased police presence at all houses of worship, adding that the additional security should be provided without charge.
County police have stepped up security at area houses of worship in recent months.
Councilman-At-Large Will Jawando said he would like to see that strengthen. Last week, he wrote to Acting Police Chief Russell Hamill to request increased security at area mosques during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts May 5 and goes through June 5.