WASHINGTON — Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, one of the victims of a weekend gun rampage at a California synagogue, praised US President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday as a “mensch par excellence,” using a Yiddish phrase for a person of integrity.
Goldstein, the rabbi of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, near San Diego, was among four worshipers hit on Saturday — one of them fatally — as a gunman burst into a service and opened fire.
“Mr. President, when you called me I was at home weeping. You were the first person who began my healing. You heal people in the worst of times and I am so grateful to that,” Goldstein told Trump at a national prayer service at the White House.
“My dear rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, taught me the way we react to darkness with light,” Goldstein said, referring to the late Chabad leader.
Goldstein recalled facing “evil and the worst darkness of all time” as the shooter, identified as 19-year-old John Earnest, opened fire in the Poway synagogue during prayers on the last day of Passover.
He said that at that moment “I made a decision that no matter what happens to me, I am going to save as many people as possible.”
Addressing the gathering, Goldstein, who lost his right index finger in the assault, said: “I should have been dead by now. I was in the line of fire, bullets flying all the way.”
“My life has changed forever, but it changed so I can make change and so I can help others learn how to be strong, might and tall,” he added.
Earnest has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate crimes charges over the attack. The Poway shooting came exactly six months after a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, known as the worst attack against Jewish people in the modern history of the United States.
Trump called for an all-out fight against anti-Semitism.
“We will fight with all our strength and everything that we have in our bodies to defeat anti-Semitism, to end the attacks on the Jewish people and to conquer all forms of persecution, intolerance and hate,” Trump said.
“As we unite on this day of prayer, we renew our resolve to protect communities of faith and ensure that all people and all of our people can live, pray and worship in peace,” Trump said.
Goldstein said Trump “helped bring Lori Kaye great honor,” referring to the woman murdered in the shooting.
Trump and Goldstein had spoken by telephone after Saturday’s shooting.
“There is nobody that expressed the horror and the beauty of what you represent better than you did,” Trump said of Goldstein, whom he called a “warm and incredible man.”
Congregant and US Army veteran Oscar Stewart and off-duty Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales, who chased the alleged gunman away, also attended the ceremony.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report