ANN ARBOR – At noon on a cold and rainy Monday, local Chabad Rabbi Alter Goldstein and Michigan Hillel held a vigil on University of Michigan's Diag that was attended by dozens of people.
For him, the event was deeply personal. His uncle, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, was wounded when a shooter entered his synagogue in Poway, California, during Saturday services. Though shot twice, he survived, but a member of his congregation, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye, was killed in the attack carried out by a 19-year-old gunman. Two others were injured in the attack, including an 8-year-old girl.
Yisroel Goldstein's two sons were present at the time of the shooting, and witnesses say Kaye died while shielding his son Mendel from the gunfire.
The attack happened during Shabbat, an observance of the Jewish day of rest from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday in which Orthodox Jews attend services and refrain from using electricity -- including cellphones.
"The way I found out about it is somebody actually came into the synagogue and said that there was some shooting in a synagogue in California, and I was like, ‘Weird,’" said Alter Goldstein. "And they said, 'Somewhere in San Diego. Actually it wasn’t San Diego but somewhere close to there.' And I was like, 'What town? Was it Poway?' and he said, 'I think that’s where it is.' And that’s when I panicked. That’s when I went outside and I tried to get somebody who was following the news."
After some time, the younger Goldstein was able to find out some details.
"I did also hear that there was a casualty, so I started learning all the details," he said. "I’m very, very proud of my uncle and he’s always been a very charismatic person and I can just visualize him getting into action as soon as he sees a situation. He’s a man with an amazing heart. He could have just ran into a corner himself. Instead, he just ran around gathering everyone."
Despite being shot in both hands, Yisroel Goldstein was able to continue with the services after making sure his congregation was accounted for.
"He said he was so in shock he didn’t even realize what happened to his hand," his nephew said. "And then he realized there was something so he wrapped it in a prayer shawl and just walks outside and he’s talking to the community, telling them to keep strong."
Alter Goldstein's son Mendel had just visited his great-uncle's congregation in Poway days before the shooting.
"I was just there with him. I was at the synagogue," he said. "I was there two days before Passover for mincha (an afternoon service). Just the thought that I was just there -- no words can describe it."
He described the stressful hours waiting to hear news about the shooting until sundown Saturday in California.
"We didn’t hear about any details until the holiday left in California, so we were just sitting here not really knowing what’s going on. There was a little bit of news coming out but there was no press conference. It was only afterwards that we really figured out what was going on. They couldn’t even call us."
Once the holiday was over, Mendel said his father's phone was ringing every minute.
His father organized the event on the Diag to bring awareness to the shooting.
"We titled this event 'A Moment of Unity,'" he said. "It's the idea to recognize and I think people need to know about this. We have to not only reflect on the past but also talk about the future. This individual was very disturbed and was very motivated who knows from where. It was a monstrous type of act. We have to start thinking about that as a country and as a world, and that’s one of the main reasons we did what we did today -- to bring awareness."
As for his uncle, he said he's sure he will continue to be a rock for his community in Poway.
"I'm sure it’s going to take him a while (to get back to normal)," said Alter Goldstein. "As he said himself, he’s going to have a scar for life. But knowing him, not only is he going to do it, but he’s going to do much greater.
"We’re constantly strengthening ourselves. That’s why we pray three times a day. That’s why we inspire each other. That’s an attitude that it’s not just something that we preach that rather we try to instill within ourselves. We use those tools to move forward."
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