Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi who was injured in a terrorist attack at the Chabad of Poway in San Diego last month, gave a moving speech at a gala event for the Ateret Cohanim organization (an Israeli NPO which encourages a Jewish presence in the Old City and East Jerusalem) in New York on Thursday.
"What happened 30 days ago allows me to have an incredible understanding of what happens on a day to basis by those who live every day at Ateret Cohanim (in the Muslim Quarter) and their incredible sacrifice they go through every day. For me it was a matter of seconds that I faced a terrorist eye to eye. As his bullets came flying towards me I thought about my brothers and sisters in Israel, in Jerusalem, who live under very similar conditions on a daily basis."
"There's a special Torah haftorah (Torah portion) that we read on the last day of Passover [the day the terrorist incident occurred] which has a verse, 'Thank you G-d for being angry with me,' but right afterward is the verse, 'Here is the G-d of my salvation. I'll trust and I won't be afraid, for the strength and praise of God is my salvation" (Isaiah 12:2). G-d may be angry at us but we immediately remember that He is with us. I was preparing to read that haftorah when I saw the terrorist in the lobby."
"I turned around and saw the horrific sight of a terrorist standing in the lobby of our synagogue barely ten feet away from me. He looks at me and lifts up his rifle. I hear children playing right behind me and as I turn around to gather the children he took aim and that's when he shot my fingers. I was able to able to usher the children to safety and I came back not knowing where the shooter went."
"I found the synagogue's sanctuary empty and someone performing CPR on Lori [Lori Gilbert Kaye, the woman killed in the attack]. I went out and found all the synagogue members on the sidewalk. I grabbed a chair and stood up and said, 'In every generation, they [the Jews' enemies] try to destroy us' [part of the Haggadah text said at the Passover seder]. This is nothing new. It's been happening in every generation but let's not forget [the second part of the verse], 'And G-d saves us from their hands.'"
"I saw the fear and shock on everyone's faces. My moment was to give them: 'G-d saves us from their hands.' That what happens to us in 2019 is a continuation but we cannot forget that G-d saves us from their hands. Later, I found out the amount of miracles that occurred one after the other. An army veteran who prayed with us got up to run toward the shooter but until today he cannot explain how a chair went flying towards the shooter. No one came forward to say that they threw the chair."
"The shooter came with enough bullets to G-d forbid kill every single one of us but he didn't know how to change the cartridges. He succeeded with only one. My own life was spared as I felt bullets fly past me. I can still feel the force of the rifle coming toward me. A millimeter in any direction would have been fatal but G-d did not want that to happen."
Rabbi Goldstein described how a day later he received a surprise call from the President of the United States Donald Trump. Trump asked him, "What can we do to change this, to stop it?"
"The only thing that came to mind was an initiative that the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubatchiver Rebbe], introduced when Ronald Reagan was shot," Rabbi Goldstein said. "He wanted to introduce the concept of a moment of silence in the public schools. He felt we needed to introduce the concept of a moment of Godliness into American homes. The president showed a great interest in that and the conversation continued for over 15 minutes."
Rabbi Goldstein said that he told Trump that he would love to meet him in person and a day later he got a call inviting him to the Rose Garden for a National Day of Prayer. Avi Berkowitz, chief of staff for Jared Kushner, invited him into the White House where he met Trump walking down the hall. Rabbi Goldstein accounts that after a brief conversation, Trump said, 'I like you. Why don't you come into the Oval Office."
"Trump brings me in, shows me around and asks me to sit down. I told him that I stand in the presence of great people. I looked at his eyes and I said: 'Mr. President, I want you to know that you're an agent of G-d, you are a messenger from G-d into this Oval Office for all that you have done for Israel and for all that you continue to do for the Jewish people.'"
"I shared this with you today because we're living in a paradox of time. We're living in the most prosperous time - such advances in technology and medicine like never before - but we're also living in very dark and difficult times. But the darkness is momentary - very quickly G-d pushed that away and showed us such light that until today I'm overwhelmed by the kindness that G-d showed us. G-d sent me into a mission that I never knew I signed up for. To not only survive a shooting but how to survive a shooting. How do you stand up in front of a world and inspire them and teach them that when there's a tragedy, we don't remain consumed by the tragedy."
"To those in Israel I want you to know that I now feel a connection with you. The empathy of your sacrifices is experienced by myself and my community."