The undeniable rise of antisemitism in the U.S. was highlighted in red on Saturday when a young man walked into a synagogue in San Diego and opened fire, killing a 60-year-old woman and wounding three others. The act of terrorism takes on an end-of-days significance since it came on the last day of Passover, referred to in Chabad Judaism as “Moshiach’s Festival,” the culmination of the redemption commemorated by Passover.
On Shabbat morning, a 19-year-old man walked into the Chabad Poway Synagogue in San Diego and opened fire. Sixty-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye was killed and three others were wounded.
The synagogue was full during the Passover celebration with approximately 100 worshipers at the time of the shooting. An announcement on the synagogue’s Facebook page invited the community to a special Passover service that included the Yizkor (a service commemorating those who have passed away).
Worshippers also came to take part in a special feast held at the end of Passover called Seudat Moshiach (Messiah’s feast), a custom of the Chabad branch of Hasidut. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third rabbi of the Chabad movement who passed away in 1866 and is known as the Tzemach Tzedek, explained the special meaning of the Messiah feast.
The last day of Pesach is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile through our righteous Moshiach, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Pesach is Moshe Rabbeinu’s festival; the last day of Pesach is Moshiach’s festival.
Also listed on the synagogue’s schedule was the priestly blessing in which the descendants of Aaron bless Israel with peace.
“What’s terribly ironic is that while the gunman entered the Synagogue, the worshipers were praying for their deceased loved ones and listening to the local Kohanim (priests) chant the Aharonic Benediction which culminates in a prayer for peace,” said Rabbi Tuly Weisz of Israel365.
Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, said that it is now undeniable that antisemitism is growing in the U.S., noting that two days before the shooting in San Diego, the New York Times published a cartoon that was widely criticized for being blatantly antisemitic.
“One of the largest news sources in the U.S., publishes this horror and then a few days later some animal on two-legs walks into a synagogue and kills Jews. I am sure the same newspaper printed an article saying the attack on the Jews was horrible but at the same time, they did not hesitate to portray Jews as evil.”
“America has many fine traits and much merit but even there, Jews are in danger,” Rabbi Berger said, noting that one of the men injured in the attack moved to California from Sderot, the beleaguered city in southern Israel that exists under constant threat of Hamas missile attacks.
“This is clearly Hashem telling the Jews to come home, to return to Jerusalem,” Rabbi Berger said. “And that is because the Messiah is about to make himself known. The sanctity of Israel can protect the Jews. The haters of Israel know this. They are taking their last chance to attack the Jews because soon they will not be able to.”
Berger emphasized that the Jews are particularly vulnerable now. He noted that a few weeks ago, Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, passed away at the age of 95. He was the leader of the Skulen branch of Hasidic Judaism in Brooklyn.On Sunday, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, the leader of the Kaliv Hasidic dynasty in Jerusalem, passed away. Both rabbis survived the Holocaust in Europe. While in Auschwitz, he was experimented upon by the Nazi Josef Mengele. Because of “chemical burning experiments,” Rabbi Taub was unable to grow facial hair or to have children.
“Tzaddikim (holy men) protect the entire generation,” Rabbi Berger explained. “The death of these two men leaves the Jews open to attack from a new generation of hatred like in the days of the Nazis.”
Rabbi Berger emphasized that Jews had a special weapon to fight Jew-hatred.
“Even Jews who don’t move to Israel can come under Hashem’s wings if they attach themselves strongly to the nation of Israel. If they openly declare that they belong to the God of Israel than no one will dare to touch them. Hiding their love of Israel or, God forbid, rejecting Israel, will only make antisemitism grown and lead to more tragedies. If the Jews wake up, the final days could be days of mercy and kindness instead of days of judgment.”
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, a prolific author and expert on classical Jewish sources pertaining to the end-of-days, understood the horrific attack in the context of the Hallel service which was recited during the week of Passover.
This is Hashem‘s doing; it is marvelous in our sight. Psalms 118:23
“Everything is from God, everyday events, even the tiniest things. But some things, some events, are clearly meant to make us stop and wonder. If we stop wondering at these events, stop being shocked or reacting, then we have stopped recognizing Hashem’s influence in the world.”
Rabbi Winston compared it to driving an automobile which, unbeknownst to the driver, was specially fitted with an additional set of controls in the back seat that can supersede the driver’s controls. The person at the controls in the back generally allows the driver to control the car but at key moments, when he feels the car is headed in a dangerous direction, the person in the back will use his controls to influence the car.
“Imagine, you think that the road is clear and all of a sudden you go flying forward,” Winston said. “If you don’t realize that someone else is really driving the car then it seems random that the car stopped. If you realize that the car stopped because someone else was driving, you will look for the reason they hit the brakes.”
Rabbi Winston explained how being shocked from a horrible incident like the San Diego shooting was a necessary aspect of a religious perspective.
“It is terrible but this type of thing is starting to be repetitive,” Winston said. “But one of the most powerful tools of evil, in particular, antisemitism, is complacency. If you don’t really believe that God involves himself in our lives, then it is easy to write these horrors off as just something awful that happened.
“This is not a commentary on the people who suffer,” Winston explained. “They could be the holiest of the holiest. It is impossible for us to know the considerations of God. But the outcome of these events is that they shock us, or at least they should shock us. They should wake us up to the fact that events aren’t only what we plan or expect.”
“It is a desecration and waste of life to see this as a random act. For people who are sensitive, who believe in Divine Providence then everything has a reason. For all we know, this shooting happened in San Diego because we didn’t take the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh seriously enough. And Pittsburgh happened because we didn’t take something else seriously enough. This is all intended to prepare us for redemption.”
“If you don’t believe in Messiah, then this era is like all previous eras and these acts can be seen as random and there is no need to react to them or understand them in context,” Winston explained. “If you believe in God then you believe that we are supposed to be preparing right now for the final redemption in every way we can. When you prepare for an event, the preparations become more intense as the event draws near. In our generation, since we are so close, we should be involved all the time in preparing for redemption and extraordinary events are preparing us for the Messiah. This is all part of the landing procedure.”