It’s still shocking to think about the gunman who entered the Chabad Center in Poway on Passover and murdered congregant Lori Kaye in cold blood and wounded Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and other congregants. This came just six months after eleven people lost their lives in the shooting of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Senseless death, emanating from senseless evil and hatred.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the longtime Chabad rabbi in Poway, reacted in a remarkable fashion. Minutes after the attack, with blood gushing from his fingers, he told his congregation; “Am Yisroel Chai-The Jewish people will live on.” His message was clear that despite the shooting he had endured just moments before the Jewish nation will not be vanquished. We will not be silent. We will use this terrible tragedy to inspire ourselves to continue our sacred mission of bringing sanctity into a confused world.”
During the following week, Goldstein was catapulted from a small -time community rabbi to a national celebrity. His words reverberated throughout the society. Goldstein’s message was repeated on the pages of The New York Times and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. That following Thursday, he was invited to the White House Prayer Breakfast where, spontaneously, President Donald Trump asked him to share a few words. In just a few days, he moved from a suburban pulpit in California to the Rose Garden.
Not overwhelmed by the public and high-stress environment, he suggested that a “Moment of Silence” return to the national agenda. The initiative was championed decades ago by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and supported by many public officials including President Ronald Reagan. The idea is that public schools should start every school day with a short period of reflection. A child could contemplate his purpose in life, his connection to a Higher Power, or just prepare for a good day ahead. Schools that have instituted a Moment of Silence have seen a noticeable drop in school violence. Children often seek the advice of their parents about what to think about during this time which sparks a conversation of family values. Federal Courts have ruled this not in violation of the separation of religion and state because everyone one is free to choose what they wish to contemplate. There are no legal barriers preventing schools in California from introducing a Moment of Silence.
In the wake of the tragedies in Poway and Pittsburgh, some leaders in the Jewish community are advocating that Jews hunker down behind walls and lower their profile. But I believe that while we must enhance security, still this is not a time to hide who we are and the message we can offer the broader society.
I attended the funeral of Lori Kaye in Poway. Afterwards, we stopped in a local supermarket before driving back to Orange County. I was astonished that one person after another came over to me sharing messages of support and comfort. This remarkable outpouring I witnessed is an indicator that America is still a place where we, as Jews, can have a wonderful future
RABBI DAVID ELIEZRIE IS at Chabad/Beth Meir HaCohen in Yorba Linda, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.