Rabbi of Poway Chabad recalls confronting gunman


(JTA) — The rabbi of the Chabad of Poway confronted the gunman who entered his synagogue building and lost at least one of his index fingers in the process.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was washing his hands before the Yizkor memorial service when he heard a loud noise.

“I turned around and I was face-to face with this murderer-terrorist, who was holding this rifle and looking straight at me,” he told host Willie Geist on NBC’s “Sunday Today.”

Goldstein spoke to the show by phone from his hospital bed hours after surgery to remove his right index finger. He is hoping to keep his left index finger. The rabbi instinctively put up his hands as the alleged gunman, John Earnest, began shooting with an assault rifle at close range.

The rabbi said the gunman then killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye “right on the spot.”

After being shot, Goldstein ran to the social hall where congregants had gathered — as had several children, including his granddaughter — and he began waving them out of the building to safety.

“I just ran, not even knowing my fingers were blown off,” he said.

Goldstein said he continued his sermon on the last day of Passover outside the synagogue building, where he and his members waited for the authorities to arrive.

“I got out there and just spoke from my heart, just giving everyone the courage to know, it was just about 70 years ago during the Holocaust that we were gunned down like this,” he said. “And I just want to let our fellow Americans know we aren’t going to let this happen here. Not here in San Diego, not here in Poway, not in the United States of America.

“We will not be intimidated and deterred by this terrorism. Terror will not win,” Goldstein said.  He called on the government to secure all places of worship from such acts of terror.

The rabbi said he has known Gilbert-Kaye for 33 years, when he founded the Chabad synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, as a 22-year-old new rabbi.

“She is a steadfast member, supporter, philanthropist — just a kind soul,” he said, adding that she helped him secure the loan to construct the building.

“I pray for healing in this time of pain and grief and I ask that we all do something to add more light to combat this evil darkness that’s out there,” Goldstein said. “That can happen through acts of compassion and loving kindness.”

Meanwhile, the rabbi said, “I cannot erase that face from my mind. I cannot erase that moment.”

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