The horrific synagogue shooting in San Diego that left one dead and three injured could have been much worse — had the shooter come moments earlier when the house of worship’s sanctuary was full of kids, according to a local rabbi who is close with the victims.
The Chabad of Poway Synagogue congregation was finishing the Yizkor service, a memorial for the dead, on Saturday when a hate-filled gunman burst in and opened fire, according to Chabad rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, who is friends with Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.
Traditionally, congregants whose parents are still alive do not take part in the memorial service, so groups of young children would had been ushered from the sanctuary moments before the gunfire erupted, Goldstein said.
Upon hearing the shots ring out, a teenage girl filed the children out a rear exit and they hid in nearby homes, according to Goldstein.
Meanwhile, heroic victim Lori Gilbert-Kaye reportedly died shielding her rabbi Goldstein, who lost a finger in the attack.
“All I know is, he lost a finger because of this. Apparently he had surgery on both index fingers, and he lost one. They saved the other one,” Eilfort said.
The violence came as Jews completed their week-long observation of Passover. Eilfort knew that his friend celebrated the close of the holiday with a pizza — and made sure this year would be no different.
“So I ran over to the Ralphs to buy the pizzas and we brought them over to the hospital,” he said.
Goldstein’s son, Shalom, took to Facebook to celebrate his father’s perseverance.
“You showed me today what it means to be a Jew that never gives up no matter what,” the son wrote. “I will never forget your words when you were shot. We are strong. We are united. They can’t break us.”
Eilfort, meanwhile, said his son Yossi Eilfort, a rabbi and former MMA fighter, runs an organization called Magen Am — Hebrew for “Shield of Our Nation” — that trains rabbis and congregants to prevent or stop active-shooter situations.
“We’ve got to take the preparation business seriously. The last thing we want is for our congregations to feel like they’re in danger any way,” Eilfort said. “That’s why a sanctuary is called a sanctuary.”
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