Two days after a gunman opened fire inside a Chabad synagogue near San Diego, Jewish Washington gathered in two locations to pray for the victims, and to band together as a community against hatred of all kinds.
At solidarity gatherings Monday at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville and TheShul of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, and in interviews with local Chabad rabbis, the message was clear: Jews should respond to hate with kindness, compassion and unity.
“When you see darkness and you see hate, you [need to] respond with light,” said Rabbi Sender Geisinsky, of Chabad of Bethesda. “The shooter is a 19 year old, who had he been educated differently would have been a positive and contributing member to society.”
The suspect, John T. Earnest, is under arrest.
At the Bender JCC, a minyan prayed in the back of the gymnasium while leaders from different faith groups took their seats in the front row. Many were trying to make sense of the incident, which took place six months after the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people.
“This is not where we wanted to be six months ago, and I can guarantee you it’s not where I want to be tonight,” said Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Maryland regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch called for end to violence and for the Jewish community to come together as one. He asked that the community not respond with fear of non-Jews or with more guns.
“We don’t need more guns. We don’t need more cameras in the street. We need to do more to recognize in the eye above. We need to recognize the infinite value of life,” he said on Monday evening before the crowd. “Knowledge of God is our power over evil.”
In the District, Rabbi Levi Shemtov led an outdoor gathering that was attended by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“We’re here to be grateful for the fact that there was that miracle that saved more death from occurring — more senseless death,” Shemtov said, WTOP reported. “We’re here because we want to show who we are, and that we will never be afraid. And finally, we are here to send a message to anyone who might think of copying that evil man who perpetrated that act of terrorism on Saturday, and tell him and everyone like him and everyone who thinks like him: You will fail.”
Some local Chabad rabbis, like Rabbi Sholom Raichik, of Chabad of Upper Montgomery County, know Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway synagogue as a friend or a mentor. Raichik went to yeshivah with Goldstein.
He said he is looking to ensure the safety of their congregation while still sharing feelings of kindness and caring toward others.
“This morning, I got an email from someone,” Raichik said on Monday in a phone interview. “We spoke about bringing love and warmth into our community. “But at the end of the day, we have to be vigilant in our security. We have to be very careful and then we have to turn around and see the good in our neighbor and our community.”
Rabbi Sholom Deitsch, co-director of Chabad of Northern Virginia, was at services in Peru, when word of the shooting got around the synagogue.
“I reacted with shock and sadness,” he said. “Also being that it was Passover and Saturday, you’re not getting all the information possible. I just had a little tidbit of what’s going on.“This wasn’t about Chabad being attacked so much as it was a Jewish institution [being attacked],” he added. “Since Pittsburgh, we have added security measures on many levels: some things are visible and some things are done invisibly. There is more of a police presence. And God is always protecting us and we have to have comfort in that. Nothing like this this should sway us from what we have to do.”