Honesdale in northeastern Pennsylvania is a rural location that is home to the Israeli tactical training academy, Cherev Gidon.Kan television visited the facility and spoke with Yonatan Stern, Director of Cherev Gidon. "It's been my dream to start an Israeli tactical training school here. I would have done it in Israel if I could, but it's not legal to do this in Israel.
"I want to have Jews armed in their synagogues and trained, so that when the see an anti-Semite walking in with a weapon, they'll know how to neutralize that threat."
Stern, a former resident of Kiryat Arba, Israel, served in the Netzah Yehuda IDF battalion, and has been in US for 11 years. For five years he has built his fully-equipped training school where they teach American civilians as well as law enforcement Israeli tactical firearms training.
"We are blessed in Pennsylvania with very liberal gun laws. Anything we'd like to do with firearms that I feel is necessary for people to defend themselves with, I can do. Anyone who legally qualifies to own a firearm can come here and train."
Nine out of ten participants in Cherev Gidon's training programss are Orthodox Jews from the New York City area, and the group says it has trained hundreds of students since beginning the program, and the numbers are growing.
"A lot of people don't realize the kind of threats that Jews are facing in America today. When I saw the footage from Charlottesville with hundreds of Nazis carrying torches screaming 'Jews will not replace us' it sent shivers down my spine ... We're training to defend ourselves and our communities in the case of need. Anyone who's threatening us automatically becomes a target for us," said one academy student.
"What we focus on here is Israeli tactical training. It's developed over the course of seventy years of constant combat and conflict in the Middle East, and it has refined itself to be an extremely effective combat training method. It's all about winning the fight as quickly as possible," explained Stern.
"The time when I actually saw combat in Israel was as a civilian, other than in the military because I was living in Kiryat Arba and I was involved in a lot of combat instances, a lot of gun battles. I saw a lot of action, a lot of people being shot, people being killed, and that's something that really motivated me to train others to protect themselves because I really don't want to see anyone being a victim.
"The goal is that everyone should be armed, everyone should be prepared, everyone should have the training to safely, effectively, and legally carry and use firearms in the case of need."
Another participant says, "I believe in 'Never Again', and I think it's a mitzvah to protect our families, protect our synagogues, our shuls."
When asked whether he thinks the answer to terror and violence really is to increase the number of firearms in people's hands, Stern responded: "To the issue of terrorism, and anti-Semitic violence, and political instability, absolutely; guns are the answer, yes."
Stern has drawn criticism in the past for his comments on Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who has advocated for turning the United States into an all-white ethno-state and complained that Jews were “overrepresented” in academia and policy making.
After neo-Nazis threatened to march against the Jewish community of the small Montana town of Whitefish earlier this year over the alleged intimidation of Spencer’s mother, Stern told Haaretz he saw “nothing wrong” with Spencer’s ideology.
“In this specific event, this guy Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who stands up for white people, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Later comments by Stern during an interview with the fringe-right Amerika website also drew criticism.
“I am a Jewish Nationalist first and foremost, but Jews are White, so naturally I recognize the logic behind White Nationalism.”
“I respect Spencer for his level-headed advocacy in defense of the White Race.”
Stern said that the 1991 Crown Heights Riots - during which 29-year-old Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian-born yeshiva student, was murdered after a Jewish driver accidently hit and killed two black children - taught him that “blacks and other minorities are not our friends”, and that “Jews are White and that Jews in America must live among Whites and unite with our fellow Whites in order to defend ourselves against these savages.”
Despite these comments, in an interview with Zev Brenner this September, Stern insisted that Cherev Gidon was apolitical, concerned with personal safety while eschewing ideology, and was not influenced by his political beliefs.
“We’re not a political organization, we’re a tactical training company,” Stern told Brenner.