POWAY, California—An intense political debate broke out at a candlelight vigil on Sunday for the dead and wounded of Chabad of Poway synagogue, where mourners argued whether it was a lack of gun control, or a lack of political self-control, that led to this terrorist attack.
A 19-year-old nursing student who penned a virulently racist manifesto is accused of opening fire on the congregation the day before, killing congregant Lori Kaye, who died when she stepped between the gunman and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, effectively taking a bullet for her spiritual leader. Authorities say they are investigating the attack as a hate crime.
Hundreds gathered in Valle Verde Park, less than a mile from the attack, including Janith Seidel, who came to the vigil to pay her respects to Kaye, and to question the absurdity of the senseless act. “I knew Lori. Everyone knew Lori,” Seidel told The Daily Beast. “She was just such a big volunteer. If you ever were involved, if you ever came to the shul, if you ever came to the Chabad at all, you knew Lori.”
Seidel, who was not at the synagogue when Earnest opened fire, questioned why–yet again–anyone was allowed access to a semi-automatic weapon. “We need to license every gun,” she said. “Like a car.”
A few feet away, a trio of attendees huddled together, locked in a tense conversation about the root of the problem that shattered their community.
“Thank God we had a Jew with a gun,” Dorina Feygin, an older woman said, referring to the off-duty Border Patrol agent who is credited with helping chase the gunman away. “Thank God for a Jew with a gun.” (The agent said he recently rediscovered his Jewish roots.)
Feygin, who emigrated from Ukraine, came to the vigil from Mt. Carmel, California, where she is a member of the local Chabad there. Feygin, a self-described Donald Trump voter, seemed to believe that anti-Semitism does not come from the right wing, but from the left.
“It’s not right-white nationalism. It’s left,” she claimed. “Fascism is a socialist ideology. I’m from the Soviet Union. I should know the signs. Fascism and socialism are the same sides of a different coin.”
Mary Marshall and Steve Gould, members of the Beth Israel Congregation from Carmel Valley who were standing near Feygin, disagreed. “Trump is feeding white nationalism in this country,” Marshall said.
“No, he’s not,” Feygin shot back.
“Of course, he is,” Gould responded.
As the crowd around the trio started to interject with heated opinions, Marshall ended the dispute.
“This is not the time for this,” she said. “We do not need it today. We have a very big difference of opinion. We shouldn’t talk about it right now.”
Earlier in the day, Rabbi Goldstein talked at length about how he had received a phone call from President Trump.
“He was so comforting. He brought amazing consolation,” he said. “I had a 15 minute conversation. He spoke to me like a friend. Like a colleague. He spoke to me like he felt for me, for my anguish and pain. We spoke about why is there so much anti-Semitism, and what we can do to change that.”
During his conversation, Goldstein told Trump about his proposed solution to curb gun violence. His idea was not increased gun control, stricter background checks, or improved mental health and counseling services. Instead, Goldstein proposed implementing a moment of prayer in the school system.
“I told him about how I thought we should have a moment of silence in our public schools,” he said. “It used to be that in our public schools, children would be required to pray every morning. And then, they stopped that.”
Near the end of the service, a woman spontaneously took the microphone and was quickly booed off of the stage. Calling herself Janice, she claimed the rabbi, who she referred to as a “strict Jew,” was “good with money.” She suggested that Earnest might not have attacked the Chabad if he only had “Jesus in his heart.”
“This is about Poway,” she said. “It’s about curing the depression in the schools. If this boy had Jesus in his heart, he wouldn't have had a gun.”
When the audience began to yell ”she’s done,” Janice was quickly ushered away from the podium and the crowd returned to the difficult task of trying to understand their grief.