By Toby Lieder for COLlive.com
Photos courtesy Shlomie Rabin
I knock on the office door of Chabad of Poway this past Friday afternoon. My little brother, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, opens the door with a big shock of surprise. “Toby! when did you come? All the way from Australia?”
We met like two lost children, and cried. We cried and we talked. We shed fountains of tears for what just happened. Combined with tears of gladness that my brother is alive. What two opposite extreme emotions coming together at once!
He has just returned from the White House and the Rebbe‘s Ohel and was in the middle of trying to compose a thank you letter to President Donald Trump. He was struggling with the computer keyboard since his fingers were wrapped in thick bandages, injured in the shooting on the last day of Pesach. It was terribly hard for him to type. I offered to help.
After listening to his harrowing account of his nightmarish experience, I said, “What can I do for you, Yisroel? I came to give you a big hug. If you need anything else, I’m at your service.”
With a smile of relief, he turned to me and my sister Leah Perl, and said: “You know every week, for the past 30 years I make the cholent for the Shul, and as you can see this week, I cannot. Who will make the cholent this shabbos!?”
“Consider it done!” I said.
“Now I know why you came to Poway all the way from Australia!” he said with his usual wink and his twinkle in his eye. He has always been finding the humor in everything!
On our way to the kitchen, Yisroel stopped in the front hallway and showed me the hole where the bullet penetrated. “Right here,” he pointed. “That hole is where the bullet was shot into when it ripped my finger off.” Pointing to another spot, he said: “This is where Lori Kaye stood and I found her lying in a pool of blood on the floor. I didn’t know it was her till her husband tried to revive her and screamed out “It’s my wife!!”
I can see Yisroel was trying to hold back his tears. He continued, “And I shouldn’t be alive today! It could have been my funeral, Toby! Do you understand what I’m saying???”
My heart sank as I heard my heartbeat pump so loud and fast. What must have that been like, to be facing a shooter, staring death into your face, and then getting shot at, and all the chaos that unfolded afterward – all within a split second!
He then explained that as he stepped out into the hallway and saw Lori there, shot on the floor, and came face to face with the killer, while someone ran towards the shooter and shouted in their loudest voice, frightening him. Another man threw a chair or something very heavy at him, while the shooter’s gun miraculously jammed. The shooter then ran towards his car while being chased by another guy that miraculously was given a gun that Lori’s husband Dr. Howard Kaye had kept in his tallis bag “just in case.” It was Howard’s gun that was used to chase out the shooter!
“So many miracles,” explained Yisroel. “Do you know that a baby, my grandson, was sleeping in that very hallway and when we realized that he wasn’t there at the shooting, nobody knew how he got moved to the inside of the Shul. There’s no explanation how he was not in the hallway where he was left and instead was sleeping soundly through the whole shooting, tucked away under his blanket in the Shul. How did he get there?”
Another little granddaughter of Yisroel witnessed everything while playing in that same hallway when she was whisked away by Yisroel. He did so while holding up his bleeding hands wrapped in his tallis, and she was screaming “Zaidy! Zaidy! you’re bleeding!” She had not seen her grandfather all week. On Friday in shul, she points to Yisroel and tells her mother, “Look, Zaidy is there! Let’s tell him what happened”!
What a miracle. Lori took the bullet for the whole congregation. “If she hadn’t been there, the shooter would’ve -G-d forbid- walked straight into the shul and he had tons of rounds of bullets ready to fire off his rifle. Lori, by being there, took the bullet for her shul! What a tzadaykus! A real Jewish martyr indeed!”
After finishing putting up the cholent for Shabbos, we were asked to run to the store and buy food for a kiddish. Nobody had the mindset to think about the next hour, never mind the next day! There are hundreds of people coming on Shabbos day for davening and the kiddush. “We’re living minute to minute, who can think about tomorrow?” Yisroel says.
One stop shop and we got all that was needed. We arrived just in time for candle lighting. As we entered the hallway of Chabad of Poway, we found it lit up with hundreds of Shabbos candles by women and girls. Some have never been in this shul before, but came to show support and solidarity with their little daughters all lighting candles, some for the first time! It was some beautiful sight to be seen, that will be etched in my mind forever!
We were all given a pink ribbon to wear proudly. Men were being wrapped in last minute tefillin with Shema Yisroel as we were ushering in the holy Shabbos Kodesh. “Seize the moment,” said the Shluchim. “We gotta get in every last mitzva before Shabbos!”
As I entered the packed Shul, I was spellbound by the spirit that possessed the 500 well-wishers from all around Los Angeles and San Diego, the majority strangers. On a typical Friday night there are 20-30 congregants. The davening was a flavor of all yomim tovim combined! There was weeping as the Rabbi spoke, then dancing like Simchas Torah when the chazonim took to the dance floor and got everyone up and joyously celebrating the miraculous turn of events.
Renowned speaker and author Rabbi Simon Jacobson flew in from New York and spoke eloquently and from the depths of his heart. He inspired everyone to keep holding on to seeking the good in everything and moving forward.
He shared the story from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel that even whilst in the bunkers of Auschwitz, you can hear the singing of Ani Maamin and praises to Hashem. He asks Weisel, “How were they singing praises of hope and love to Hashem while one and half million kids are being killed by the Nazis?” To which Weisel answered: “We were singing the Ani Maamim and praising Hashem to show the Nazis that whatever they do to us we will not fall down! It was to show them that the Nazis cannot bring us down!”
On Shabbos morning, the Shul was again packed to the brim. My brother Yisroel opened the Aron Kodesh and the entire shul screams out loud to the heavens “Shma Yisroel!” You can feel Hashem’s presence openly amongst all these beautiful strangers but really sisters and brothers. They cared enough to stop their lives and come to Shul to support and hold hands with all those that are hurting. What a sight and feeling to have been witness to! The entire shul later benched the blessing of Hagomel out loud…
While the Aron Kodesh was open, the clock struck 11:35 AM. Yisroel shared with the congregation that it was at this moment when Lori got shot last week. “Let us make a moment of silence right now at the same time and in our thoughts for this moment think of a resolution that we will all take upon ourselves to make Lori proud.” That was a most defining moment to stay with all of us for a long time.
We had the delicious kiddush and the cholent came out very tasteful (luckily). There was even plenty of leftovers from a crowded room of a few hundred unexpected people. The chazonim sang “the little bird is calling” and it just brought tears to everyone – especially when it came to the part of “the little bird is Yisroel…”
We were enveloped in a room, that was full of notes and cards from all sorts of well-wishers from all over the world, not only San Diego. It had messages of peace, hope and love. Bunches of assorted colored flowers covered the entrance of the shul. How warm these small acts of love and kindness from strangers were, with each one adding their messages of hope and care. How long does it take to make someone feel good? To write a note of love and care for 1 or 2 minutes of our busy life? How hard is that? And what a huge difference it makes for the receiver! What lessons I learned!
During the last few hours of Shabbos, the chazonim came to the home of Devorie and Yisroel. We were sitting there with such a warm Shabbos peace and tranquility listening to the harmonies of Shlomie Rabin‘s and Fitz Rabin‘s gorgeous tunes while witnessing tears coming down Yisroel’s face. Especially when the chazonim went through some old nostalgic Chassidishe nigunim and you can feel the bond connecting all the links of all previous Chassidim, giving us the strength we needed! All chassidim are one!
Yisroel’s 2 mechutonim came for Shabbos to support him and their family. One presented him with a huge (must be about 30’x30’) Kinus Hashluchim photo as a gift to hang up and see thousands of shluchim all together in one photo in front of 770, and gain strength that we are all brothers, we are all one. It was a reminder that we are all hurt and feel the pain as one big family and will be there for each other!
Many people came forward to offer assistance. For example, Mayor of San Diego Kevin Faulconer said that construction workers want to remodel the front hall to give it a fresh new look. They are all donating their time and effort to make it happen for you. A Lubavitcher who works for a security company came forward to offer a state-of-the-art new security camera system to be installed.
On Friday, a person walked into Yisroel’s office and put an envelope of money on the table and said, “this is for shabbos food!” As reported on COLlive, 2 young girls from Pittsburg made a big campaign called Pause for Poway which is beautiful. Stores in Los Angeles, like Dovid Lieder from Lieder’s on Pico Blvd, donated food to be brought up to Poway to share their love and care which was immensely appreciated. We need to always remember how important it is to also nourish the body when someone is in a crisis! Another huge lesson I learned.
Mrs. Shaindy Jacobson, Director of JLI’s women’s studies division, The Rosh Chodesh Society, stayed by Devorie Goldstein‘s side the entire Shabbos, giving her so much strength and joy just by being in her company. You have no idea how much little acts of kindness are huge when people are vulnerable and in crises!
Thank you Shaindy for being there for her and to Rabbi Jacobson for spending hours keeping Yisroel and all his congregation company with his inspirational words of comfort, your both being there for shabbos brought so much light into this dark story! On Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Jacobson presented a personal interview with Yisroel on COLlive which was watched by thousands.
My sister and I said we felt like we were right there in ground zero experiencing all these surreal moments as they unfolded. I left San Diego with a very broken heart knowing that my brother and his family have a long and hard road of healing ahead of them. Now that the reporters and the media interviews are over, it’s time to process everything.
My personal takeaway from Yisroel is that in life we are always given choices to make. Decisions that will create our destiny. Any decision we make will play out our future. My brother was given a split-second choice to make as the bullet ripped off his finger. His choice was to curl up in a corner and cry or to stand tall and not be affected. To stand tall and choose to not to fall down. To stand tall and make something from this tragedy and fall victim. Once he made that split-second decision, it shaped and affected his entire outcome. Not only his but it vibrated and has a ripple effect on the entire world!
I will always fall back on my brother’s split-second choice of not being victimized but rather go out there and make a difference and change for the good, look for the good that I can find in what may look like a disastrous story! We all get challenged all the time. Let us all remember Yisroel’s courage and not fall victim to situations but rise above it and seek the good in every possible way!
Another lesson I learned from this harrowing experience that my brother endured yet turned it around into something absolutely incredibly positive was, when my brother was pressed to answer by the media and in the last interview on COLlive on Sunday with Rabbi Jacobson, there was one question everyone asked him: “Where do you get your strength from? Where did you get such a positive strong focused attitude from?”
He answered: “When I was very young my parents, my school, and most of all my Rebbe, influenced me in ways I haven’t ever realized. Looking back, It was the positive education the strong faith in Hashem, that I was influenced without realizing it then. They all kept planting the seeds and after all those years, when the moment came to use all the wisdom I was taught when I was younger it all came to surface.”
This is my personal lesson in life, to keep planting seeds into our children’s minds about our love for the truth for the Torah and Yiddishkeit. Keep the flame lit of our love for Hashem. Point out Hashgocha protis in all we do in life keep Hashem alive and present in our homes so kids hear and see Yiddishkeit alive and meaningful.
It is the seeds that we plant when our kids are younger that will be their split-second decision to stand tall and not fall, victim, when being challenged or G-d forbid curl up in a corner and cry in despair. It’s the yiras shomayim, including G-d in our everyday life, that we instill in our family, that will give us the strength later to stand tall and not ‘give in’ to be a victim!
Yisroel says he suddenly got the courage to stand tall and be strong with faith as we all heard, because of all the lessons he had accumulated all his younger years from home and school.
How powerful a message is that! How we must step up to recognize the power of educating our families in the best possible way, for those younger years are the most formative years that shape their future choices!
Parents, let’s put our phones away from 4 pm every evening and put all our attention towards our dear children who are looking up to us and needing so badly to feel our love and attention and that they are a priority and not the cell phone. Let’s rethink our priorities and make some resolutions in honor of turning this tragedy into a positive experience by deciding to put our phones away and put our children as a first priority!
Video: Emotional Shabbos in Poway (videos from Erev Shabbos)
Video recap by Chazan Shlomie Rabin:
Toby Lieder, mom of 14 kids and over 30 grandchildren is an educator and world renowned lecturer and Shadchan Coach inspiring her audiences with her humor, inspiration, and deep insights together with 42 years of experience in raising her family who are all nearly married now.
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