LOS ANGELES — After physician Cheryl Effron’s parents were brutally murdered, she decided to learn how to handle a weapon. She joined Bullets & Bagels, a Jewish shooting club, as a way to help her move on.
“I started with the group because my life was being threatened by the monster who murdered my parents,” Effron told The Times of Israel.
Although the perpetrator is currently incarcerated, Effron anticipates he may be paroled this August.
Her experience, although extreme, parallels growing concerns of many middle-aged Jews who previously resisted the idea of learning to defend themselves with arms, says Bullets & Bagels founder and CEO Fred Kogen.
They seek to “close the gap between their physical strength and agility and potentially that of a young athletic criminal,” Kogen says. “They are looking for the ultimate equalizer and find our club a great means of accomplishing their goal.”
The group, which offers “Noshing, Networking, and Shmoozing,” has attracted more than 500 to its mailing list, including 200 current paid members, Kogen says. The organization aims to provide the Jewish community and others “a comfortable, supervised, no-pressure environment to experience the satisfaction and pleasure of learning to shoot a gun and to hone shooting skills.”
On a recent rainy afternoon, members range in age from teens, like 18-year-old Matana Zwiren visiting from Israel where she is attending seminary, to Deby and Jeff Goodman, a retired couple. They joined fellow members in a practice session at the Insight Gun Range in Artesia.
Off a major highway buzzing with traffic, surrounded by industrial complexes and semi-trucks, members park, purchase ammunition and plug away at targets hung in the nondescript indoor shooting range. In their skirts, Zwiren and Deby Goodman stand out as religious women. Besides Zwiren’s mother, the other shooters are male.
“It’s a tremendous amount of fun,” says Jeff Goodman. “It’s a great way to practice your skills. If you own a gun, you should be proficient and able to handle it safely.”
His wife Deby wears an AIPAC pin with Israeli and American flags and has Israeli flags painted on her nails.
‘To be a shooter, you don’t have to be a conservative’
She cites the verse from Exodus 13:18, which states the children of Israel left Egypt bearing arms, “because a free people bears arms,” she says. “To be a shooter, you don’t have to be a conservative. But most conservatives are shooters.”
Reached through double doors, the shooting range is percussive. Explosions and the smell of gun power trouble some observers. As less experienced shooters pull the trigger during a quick lesson with a volunteer instructor, hot empty shells fly off a pistol with each shot.
Throughout the year, the group’s NRA-certified volunteer instructors teach participants safe shooting, marksmanship, firearm safety, storage and defensive tactics. Some sessions are more formal than others, but at practice sessions, instructors circulate, making sure each shooter is shooting safely.
“I love the fact that everyone is here for the same thing — camaraderie and shooting skills,” says Ed Green, who, like the Goodmans, is retired. “I like it because it is totally absorbing. When I’m shooting, I’m not thinking of anything. I’m just trying to improve.”
‘When I’m shooting, I’m not thinking of anything. I’m just trying to improve’
For these members, practice is a welcome activity during retirement, motherhood or other stages of life.
“Throughout my years networking within and serving the Jewish community of Southern California, I discovered other Jews who, like me, enjoyed shooting but felt uncomfortable expressing that interest,” says Kogen, a physician, Reform mohel and married father of one son.
Although his wife is not active, Kogen says, she supports his passion for the project.
Besides impromptu sessions like this, the non-profit’s usual events are held Sunday mornings and combine a bagel brunch with a guest speaker, followed by shooting practice. They train with weapons that either belong to the group, are the property of individual members or are rented from the firing range.
Guest speakers include law enforcement officers, legal experts, educators and military personnel. At the FT3 Shooting Range in Stanton near Huntington Beach on May 7, the guest speaker is the group’s first Muslim member, Omar Qudrat, an attorney and former prosecutor on terrorism for the Department of Defense. As a reserve officer in the US Army, he serves as a Judge Advocate General Corps.
Kogen, who says he has performed upwards of 8,000 circumcisions, founded B&B in 2013 to teach the Jewish community and friends about firearms, weapons safety, marksmanship and recreational shooting.
“Once it began, I began hearing from middle-aged and older Jewish men and women who had previously resisted the idea of learning to defend themselves but were having second thoughts because of recent events,” Kogen says. “Often they were concerned about their vulnerability to younger, stronger criminals. They began to see firearms familiarity as a possible solution.”
Thirty percent of Bullets & Bagels’ current membership is comprised of women.
‘The oldest female shooter who attended one of our events was 101 and had never shot a firearm before’
“The oldest female shooter who attended one of our events was 101 years of age and had never shot a firearm before,” Kogen says.
Its female-friendly ranks have helped welcome women like Effron whose personal history includes devastating tragedy.
“I love this group of intelligent people,” Effron says. “Fred has created an amazing environment open to lecture on many aspects of gun ownership. To see the growth of such an organization shows the need.”
Kogen’s interest in firearms began with an epiphany at 40 when he decided that as a law-abiding, tax-paying responsible Jewish citizen of the United States, he wanted “to try my hand at learning to shoot,” he says. So he tracked down a class and began to shoot trap and skeet with a shotgun.
“I was a terrible shot at first, I might add, but loved the experience, the feel and the smell,” Kogen says. “Responsibly shooting a firearm and training with one takes discipline and focus. It challenges one’s hand-eye coordination, body posture, cognitive function, timing, and situational awareness.”
Although the group focuses on increasing Jewish participation in shooting practice and shooting sports, it welcomes everyone. In fact, Kogen says, about 25% of participants and members are not Jewish.
“As we all recognize, most Jews in the United States are quite liberal and tend to be uncomfortable with firearms,” Kogen says. “It’s a big challenge to educate Jews about the positive benefits of shooting activities when most Jews are negatively predisposed to this concept with false impressions of firearms and those who engage in shooting activities.”
‘Jewish folks have a proclivity to find firearms inherently evil, which they are not’
B&B works to free them of “their preconceived notion that shooting sports and firearms are boorish and uncivilized,” Kogen says. “Jewish folks have a proclivity to find firearms inherently evil, which they are not. It is our goal to educate our Jewish brethren in the true facts then let them decide if continuing shooting activities with Bullets & Bagels resonates with them.”
Welcoming all levels of proficiency, the group attracts “those who have never fired a weapon to those who’ve had combat experience,” Kogen says.
Roberta Tarnove, 56, a clinical laboratory scientist and owner of four handguns, appreciates the club’s apolitical approach to issues not relating to the right to bear arms.
‘My favorite aspect of this club is their position of not getting involved in politics — beyond limited gun-centric issues’
“My favorite aspect of this club is their position of not getting involved in politics — beyond limited gun-centric issues,” says Tarnove, who goes shooting on her own two or three times a month.
Tarnove, who considers herself an introvert, joined a year ago.
“Joining any group is challenging for me. Bullets & Bagels has made me feel welcome and safe. Through the group, I have made new friends and some of the sponsors have turned out to be businesses I now frequent.”
Members range from Chabadniks like the Goodmans, who live in Yorba Linda, to what Kogen describes as “the other white meat” eating Jews.
“The remaining 25% of our members are non-Jewish, whom we respectfully refer to as ‘philo-semites,’” he says. “These are non-Jews who like to shoot with, not at Jews, which is of course, from a historical prospective, a pleasant change for us.”
‘These are non-Jews who like to shoot with, not at Jews, which is of course, from a historical prospective, a pleasant change for us’
Non-Jewish members are sometimes married to Jews, Kogen says. “Most are staunch and vocal supporters of the State of Israel.”
B&B’s numerous sponsors include Israel Weapons Industries, which manufacturers arms for the IDF. B&B recruited actor Joe Mantegna as guest auctioneer two years ago for a charity event.
“His skill as an auctioneer resulted in thousands of dollars generated with 100% of the proceeds donated to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces,” Kogen says.
Clive Goldberg, 50, a married Orange County businessman originally from South Africa, has attended a half dozen events over the last 18 months and shoots pistols, rifles and shotguns an average of twice a month.
“Bullets & Bagels offers the opportunity to balance the focus and discipline when shooting on the range, with a social time,” Goldberg says.