A relative of two Israelis who were injured in Saturday’s shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, said his family had moved to San Diego amid incessant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, some of which had damaged their home, causing injuries — only to be targeted by anti-Semitism in the United States.
Local authorities say 19-year-old John Earnest opened fire with an assault rifle on worshipers during morning services on the last day of Passover, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounding the rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein; Israeli girl Noya Dahan, 8, who was hit by shrapnel in the face and leg; and her uncle Almog Peretz, 31, who was shot in the leg. All three are in stable condition.
“We came from fire to fire,” said Israel Dahan, Noya’s father, referring to the family’s move from the rocket-battered Gaza-border town of Sderot to California.
Dahan told Israel Radio that the family’s home in Sderot had been hit by rockets several times over the years, and that he was injured on one of those occasions.
After moving to the US several years ago, he said, the family’s new home was targeted — this time by anti-Semites, who spray-painted swastikas on the walls.
“It can happen anywhere. We are strong,” he said.
Peretz said he was able to quickly protect children from harm during the attack due to instincts he honed over years rushing to shelters to hide from thousands of rockets fired by terror groups in the Gaza Strip over the last 15 years.
“This is sad, but I am originally from Sderot so we know a bit about running from the Kassam rockets,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 from his hospital bed.
“A person with a big rifle, like an M16, entered the synagogue and started shooting everywhere,” Peretz recalled. “At first we thought the ceiling had collapsed, but then I turned around and saw he was aiming his weapon at me.
“There were many small kids next to me,” he continued. “I took a little girl who was our neighbor and three nieces of mine and ran. I opened the back door and we ran with all the children to a building in the back. I hid them in that building.
“As I picked up the girl, the terrorist aimed his weapon at me. I was injured in the leg.”
Peretz said he then returned to the synagogue, fearing for another of his nieces.
“I came back because one of my nieces was stuck in the bathroom. I had to go back and bring her,” he said. “Fortunately she stayed there and the terrorist had already left.”
Another Israeli congregant, Shimon Abitbol, said he had taken one of his grandsons outside the synagogue hall during the service, and that he was returning when he heard the gunshots.
“Without thinking twice I lay down on my grandson and protected him,” he said. “After I counted seven or eight gunshots and there was a lull — I assume the weapon jammed — I took the grandson and rushed outside through a side door; we gathered all the children there.”
Abitbol said he then returned to the prayer hall and saw that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, “a truly amazing person, suffered bullets to his hands. He covered his wounds with a tallit [prayer shawl] — a very surrealistic sight.”
Abitbol, who is a paramedic with Magen David Adom, then attempted to treat Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed in the attack.
“I didn’t find a pulse,” he said. “Her husband who is a medical doctor came to me and said, ‘Listen, this is my wife.’ He then fainted. It was a very, very difficult moment.”
A young Israeli man, identified only by his first name, Gil, was quoted by Channel 12 as saying he saved himself by hiding from the gunman under a table.
“I saw the terrorist running fast toward the synagogue with a rifle,” he said. “I immediately began running toward an open room. The terrorist shot a woman sitting in the front in the stomach — that was the first gunshot. He shot her twice more and I heard her scream.
“Then he noticed me and started shouting at me: ‘You’d better run, son of a bitch.’ He started running toward me, I jumped into the room and hid under the table. He didn’t find me and ran in another direction.”
Agencies contributed to this report.