A long-serving Magen David Adom (MDA) medic who was caught up in the Chabad of Poway shooting has spoken of his surprise at witnessing violent antisemitism in the “beautiful and kind” Californian community.
Israeli first-responder Shimon Abitbul had come to San Diego on April 9 for the birth of his third grandchild the following day. He then stayed with his daughter’s family over Pesach, making regular visits to the synagogue in Poway.
When the shooting began on Shabbat morning, he was accompanying his two-year-old grandson, Nil Yitzchak, through a rear room leading towards the garden of the building.
He said: “I threw him on the floor, and put my body on him to protect him. I put my hand on his mouth, because [the shooter] could come to shoot us.”
After the gunman fled, Mr Abitbul attempted to give emergency aid to Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who had been injured, before moving towards Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed in the attack.
The 60-year-old told the JC: “I saw her and when I was checking her pulse one guy came and he told me ‘That’s my wife’. In this moment, it killed me.
“When he put the defibrillator patch on her chest, I saw a [bullet] hole. We started CPR but I knew there was nothing we could do. It was the left chest, the heart.
“Then the paramedics came and they took it from there. I stood up, and her husband fell to the floor.”
Mr Abitbul, a Magen David Adom regional deputy director, has worked for the emergency ambulance service for “more than 40 years”, either side of his national service.
Mr Abitbul, who visits the Poway suburb of San Diego at least twice a year, said he had “never heard of antisemitism” in the community.
He said: “You see all that happens in Israel, and in all the world — Europe, Britain, France.
“Of course I have seen a lot in Magen David and in the army — shootings, bombings. Now it’s come to here, and in Pittsburgh. It is a susprise [when it happens] in the United States — a great, democratic place.
“It is not just a Jewish community. The people here – they are so kind.
“I can’t believe it happened here. It’s a synagogue, it’s a holy place. How can you do it? This place is so quiet. It’s a very beautiful place.
“I hope it stops – this hate must stop. We are human beings.”