Two of the victims of Saturday’s shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, were former residents of the rocket-beleaguered Israeli town of Sderot, and had come to America for respite from the fear of attacks.
On the last day of Passover, 19-year-old John Earnest entered the synagogue of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and opened fire on worshipers with an AR-style rifle. Jumping in front of Rabbi Yisroel’s son, Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye was shot and killed.
Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle Almog Peretz, 31, were both wounded, with Noya being hit by shrapnel in the face and leg and Almog being shot in the leg.
Peretz is being credited with helping to save the lives of numerous children at the synagogue, herding them into another building when the shooter burst into the house of worship.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 12 news from his hospital bed, Peretz attributed his lightning instinct to protect the children to years of running to take shelter from rockets launched at his hometown of Sderot from the Gaza Strip.
“This is sad, but I am originally from Sderot so we know a bit about running from the Kassam rockets,” he said.
“A person with a big rifle, like an M-16, entered the synagogue and started shooting everywhere. At first we thought the ceiling had collapsed, but then I turned around and saw he was aiming his weapon at me,” he said.
“There were many small kids next to me. I took a little girl who was our neighbor and three nieces of mine and ran,” he recalled. “I opened the back door and we ran with all the children to a building in the back. I hid them in that building. As I picked up the girl, the terrorist aimed his weapon at me. I was injured in the leg.”
Despite his injury and the danger, Peretz went back into the building in an attempt to save another child.
“I came back because one of my nieces was stuck in the bathroom. I had to go back and bring her,” he said. “Fortunately she stayed there and the terrorist had already left.”
“We went from fire to fire,” said Israel Dahan, Noah Dahan’s father, referring to his move from Sderot to California. He told Israel Radio that his family home had been hit by rockets several times, and that he himself had been wounded in a rocket attack. The ongoing fear of rockets led the Dahan family to relocate to California, where they hoped they could raise their children in safety.
However, not only was his daughter wounded in Saturday’s shooting attack, was directly targeted against Jews, but his new home in California was defaced with swastikas.
“It can happen anywhere. We are strong,” he said.
Worshiper Shimon Abitbol, also from Israel, said he protected his grandson with his own body and helped usher the children outside, returning after the shooting stopped, seemingly due to a gun malfunction, to find Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein with serious bullet wounds to his hands.
“He covered his wounds with a tallit—a very surreal sight.”
A paramedic with Israel’s Magen David Adom, Abitbol was reportedly the first person to attempt to provide first aid to Gilbert-Kaye, but was unable to find a pulse.