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Rabbi wounded in synagogue attack says Jews won't be cowed

By AFP

Added 29th April 2019 06:39 AM

Police identified the shooter as John Earnest, 19, who had posted angry anti-Jewish remarks online

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Executive Director Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (2nd R), who was shot in the hands, hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California. AFP Photo

Police identified the shooter as John Earnest, 19, who had posted angry anti-Jewish remarks online

A rabbi who carried on preaching despite being wounded in the latest deadly shooting at a US synagogue said Sunday that Jews would not be intimidated by the "senseless hate" of anti-semitism.

A 60-year-old woman, Lori Kaye, was killed and three people were wounded when a gunman burst into the synagogue in the southern Californian town of Poway on Saturday and opened fire on the final day of Passover.

Police identified the shooter as John Earnest, 19, who had posted angry anti-Jewish remarks online just before the shooting and claimed he was behind the arson of another mosque in the area weeks earlier.

According to San Diego County Sheriff's Department records, Earnest faces one charge of murder and three of attempted murder, and will appear before a judge to be formally indicted on May 1.

Coming six months to the day after a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, it raised new questions about a nationwide rise in anti-Semitism and in hate crimes generally -- and about President Donald Trump's often controversial response to them.

Ahead of the funeral for Kaye, the synagogue's rabbi said authorities had to do more to protect places of worship.

"Terror will not win. As Americans we cannot cower in the face of the senseless hate that is in anti-Semitism," Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein said in an interview to NBC television from his hospital bed.

'Indescribable'

Later, he recounted the attack to reporters, saying he was finalizing his sermon when he heard a loud bang and stopped in his tracks.

"I turn around and I see a sight that I -- indescribable. Here is a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me," he said.

"And I look at him. He had sunglasses on, I couldn't see his eyes, I couldn't see his soul. I froze."

Before he could reach Kaye, "more shots came" and he raised his hands -- eventually losing his right index finger to a bullet despite a four-hour operation to try to save it.

The rabbi saw children were still playing in the banquet hall and rushed to get them out -- including his own four-year-old granddaughter.

He was joined in this effort by Almog Peretz, who Goldstein said was a Israeli "war veteran."

Peretz "ran into the banquet hall, gathered more children, he got a bullet in his leg, risking himself to save the children."

It was then that the shooter's assault weapon jammed, creating an opening for others to jump in, said Goldstein.

Two others attempted to stop Earnest from fleeing: US army veteran Oscar Stewart, who tried to tackle him, and off-duty Border Patrol officer Jonathan Morales, who Goldstein said shot at the shooter's car.

"I've been told that I may have saved some lives -- I never thought about that I think...I just did what I did," Stewart told reporters.

"I'm not a hero or anything, I just did it."

After the shooter had fled, Goldstein returned to the lobby to find Kaye unconscious. He led his congregation outside and continued preaching until the emergency services arrived.

"I got up there and just spoke from my heart, giving everyone the courage," he told NBC.

Flowers and notes of condolence and solidarity were left at a makeshift memorial across the road from the synagogue on Sunday, when mourners also held a candlelight vigil for a second night.

'Evil of anti-Semitism'

Goldstein also said he received a 15 minute call from US President Donald Trump, with the White House later confirming Trump called to "offer his comfort and condolences."

On Saturday, the president told a rally that the "evil of anti-Semitism and hate" must be overcome.

The shooting came only days after former US vice president Joe Biden highlighted Trump's 2017 remarks about the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia that left a counter-protester dead.

Trump at the time said that "there were very fine people on both sides" of the protest which was against the removal of a Confederate-era statue.

After Biden on Thursday brought up the comment when announcing his presidential bid, Trump doubled down, saying he had phrased his 2017 remarks "perfectly."

Human rights groups say recent years have seen the biggest rise in anti-Semitic incidents in decades while some critics say Trump's rhetoric has played a part.

Trump has forged an exceptionally close relationship to Israel and its current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu while his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are Jewish.

But critics blame him for stoking racial hatred with comments about Muslims and Latino immigrants.

Peretz and his eight-year-old niece Noya Dahan were two Israelis injured in the shooting -- originally from Sderot, a town bordering the Gaza Strip that it is a frequent target of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Both have been discharged from the hospital.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the shooting as "atrocious," adding that "the international community must step up the struggle against anti-Semitism."

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