He was not originally included on the roster of speakers at the National Day of Prayer at the White House, but Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, heroic senior rabbi of Chabad of Poway, drew tears from his listeners and words of grateful appreciation from President Donald Trump when the president spontaneously called him up to share his message of pride and strength in the face of evil. In the words of the president: “There was no one who expressed the horror and beauty of what you represent better than you did.”
Speaking with bandages on his hands and bags under his eyes following the harrowing anti-Semitic shooting at his synagogue last Saturday that resulted in the death of congregant Lori Gilbert Kaye, two other injured, and the rabbi with the loss of a finger, Goldstein quoted the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who so often spoke of the vital need for moral education in American society. He noted how in the early 1980s, not long after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, the Rebbe began speaking of the dire importance of making a daily Moment of Silence a standard practice in public schools across the nation.
“Just five days ago,” said the rabbi, “Saturday morning, I faced evil and . . . darkness . . . right in our own house of worship, right at Chabad of Poway. I faced [the killer] and I had to make a decision. Do I run and hide or do I stand tall and fight and protect all those who are there? We cannot control what others do, but we can control how we react. My dear rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, taught me, that the way we react to darkness is with light. It was that moment that I made a decision, no matter what happens to me, I’m going to save as many people as possible. I should have been dead … The Rebbe taught me that as a Jew, you are a soldier of G‑d, you need to stand tall and stand fast do what it takes to change the world.
“My life has changed forever,” he continued, “but it changed so that I can make change, and that I can teach others to be mighty and tall. Many have asked me, ‘Rabbi, where do we go from here?’ … My response is what the Rebbe [said] when President Ronald Reagan was shot. The Rebbe said we need to go back to the basics and introduce a Moment of Silence in all public schools so that children from early childhood on can recognize that there is more good to the world, that they are valuable, there is accountability and every human being is created in G‑d’s image. If something good will come out of this terrible, terrible horrific event, let us bring a Moment of Silence to our public school system … ”
In addition to several Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Goldstein was accompanied by congregants and fellow heroes of the attack, Oscar Stewart, the combat veteran who chased the shooter from the synagogue; and Jonathan Morales, the off-duty border-patrol agent who took up the chase and managed to shoot the attacker’s car several times.
The president asked both men to share a few words. Like his rabbi, Morales quoted the Rebbe and asked his audience to increase in mitzvah observance and acts of goodness and kindness.
Following the rabbi’s emotional remarks, the president thanked him, saying that “truly your courage and grace and devotion touches every heart and soul in America.”