Last Saturday, the final day of Passover, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was about to give his sermon when he heard a loud noise and rushed to the synagogue lobby to see that a man with a rifle had just murdered one of his congregants. The shooter then fired at Goldstein and hit the index fingers on both hands, which he raised to protect his eyes; two others were injured, one of them a child, before two synagogue goers managed to chase the shooter away. Goldstein writes:
I am a religious man. . . . I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I don’t know why a part of my body was taken away from me. I don’t know why I had to see my good friend, a woman who embodied the Jewish value of ḥesed (lovingkindness), hunted in her house of worship. . . .
I used to sing a song to my children, a song that my father sang to me when I was a child. “Hashem is here,” I would sing, using a Hebrew name for God, pointing with my right index finger to the sky. “Hashem is there,” I would sing, pointing to my right and left. “Hashem is truly everywhere.” That finger I would use to point out God’s omnipresence was taken from me. I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure; a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, never, ever, not ever, to be afraid to be Jewish.
From here on in I am going to be more brazen. I am going to be even more proud to walk down the street wearing my tsitsit [ritual fringes] and kippah, acknowledging God’s presence. And I’m going to use my voice until I am hoarse to urge my fellow Jews to do Jewish [things]. To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzahs on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness. And to show up in synagogue—especially this coming Shabbat. . . .
In his vile manifesto, the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world. So it is with this country. America is unique in world history. Never before was a country founded on the ideals that all people are created in God’s image and that all people deserve freedom and liberty.