Christians stand with California's Jewish community after deadly attack on synagogue

A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019.(Photo: Reuters/John Gastaldo)

Christian leaders have condemned a deadly attack on a synagogue in California on Saturday as the Jewish community was marking the last day of Passover. 

One woman was killed and three others wounded, including the rabbi, when a gunman opened fire on worshippers at Congregation Chabad in Poway, California, about 22 miles north of San Diego.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein lost a finger as he put his hands up to protect himself when he came face to face with the shooter.  

"As soon as he saw me, he started to shoot toward me and that is when I put my hands up," Rabbi Goldstein said on NBC's Sunday Today programme. "I cannot erase that face from my mind."

The suspect is 19-year-old John Earnest, who surrendered himself to police on a highway in nearby Rancho Bernardo, and is believed to be the author of a "manifesto" posted online claiming responsibility for a recent mosque arson attack and referencing deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand as a source of inspiration.

In a statement, representatives of the Chabad synagogue said their hearts were "shattered by the cold-blooded attack" and that God's heart "aches from senseless tragedies like these". 

"While commemorating the Jewish people's miraculous liberation from bondage and persecution more than 3,300 years ago, and preparing to remember their departed loved ones at the Yizkor service, these beautiful people were heinously attacked for no reason other than the fact that they were Jewish," they said. 

"We offer our immense gratitude to God that the full scope of the perpetrator's evil intent to commit mass murder was miraculously unrealised when his rifle inexplicably jammed, though tragically not before snuffing out the life of a most beautiful human being and injuring others." 

They paid tribute to Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who lost her life in the attack, as a "community trailblazer". 

They said the attack on Chabad and other places of worship recently underscored the "critical need" for the moral education of young people rooted in faith in God. They also called for acts of kindness to counter hate. 

"Cold-blooded, fanatical, baseless, relentless hatred can be uprooted from its core only by saturating our world with pure, undiscriminating, uninhibited, unyielding love and acts of kindness, and by teaching that to all our children, in our schools and our homes," they said. 

Christian peace campaigner the Rev Joseph D'Souza called upon faith leaders to speak out against extremism in their communities.

"There is no worse form of terrorist extremism than an attack on a place of worship — whether it be arson at churches in Louisiana, mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, or this weekend's attack on a synagogue in Poway, California," he said.

"This evil must be confronted by all of us, especially faith leaders who at times have to overcome threats from within their own community to speak up against extremism. We cannot be bystanders in this war against the right of any community to worship in peace. Enough is enough."

Georgia pastor Jentezen Franklin said that acts of violence were not the will of God. 

"It seems a week doesn't go by before we hear of yet another attack against those peacefully exercising their right to worship," he said.

"I'm grieving for the people of Poway, California tonight and the Jewish community around the world after such a senseless synagogue shooting.

"I so desperately want the world to know that the God who made us and loves us does not call us to act in violence towards anyone. In a time of increasing hostility towards nearly every faith, I pray we all take a moment to remind our children that a bullet, a bomb or a clenched fist is never the answer to our troubles.

"Loving your neighbor—no matter their race, religion, or creed—is always the better choice."