«It was horrific, utter horror,» Goldstein said. «It was like images out of the Holocaust.»
It was only a few months ago, after another hate-fueled attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh that Goldstein completed training for a situation just like this. But it seemed impossible to imagine it would ever happen to his own congregation, he said.
Now Goldstein and leaders like him in synagogues and other houses of worship are confronting their new reality. Just like school principals across the country, religious leaders now must take measures to prepare for the horrors of mass shootings. As recent attacks have shown, prayer services are increasingly vulnerable.
The shooting in Poway, about 40 kilometres north of San Diego, coincides with a significant spike in hate crimes, including acts of anti-Semitism. The gunman, whom police identified as John Earnest, 19, wrote a manifesto echoing the same kind of white supremacist views as the shooters in the attacks in the synagogue in Pittsburgh and on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The latest attack came one week after mass bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka left hundreds dead.
On Sunday, Earnest was booked on one charge of murder — Kaye was killed in the attack — and three charges of attempted murder.
As hate-filled screeds spewing white nationalist conspiracy theories have ricocheted around the internet, hate crimes have increased in the past few years, according to the FBI. And all over the country and the world, houses of worship have tightened security in response to terrorist attacks.
African-American churches have long had to consider the probability of security threats, but recent events are showing many white congregations that their past sense of safety is false, said Reverend Ronell Howard, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church of Piscataway, New Jersey.
«When I tell my Caucasian colleagues, black churches have always had security as long as I can remember, they are always flabbergasted,» Howard, 50, said.
Ultimately the increasing violence is less about religion than about fomenting fear and keeping people in a heightened sense of vulnerability, she said. People of faith need to reiterate one message, she said: «We were not given from God this spirit of fear, but of love and of courage.»
Goldstein said that his congregation had never hired armed security guards, only because it could not afford to do so, and that the government should step in to pay for such security.
«This may have been prevented if we had that,» Goldstein said. «The United States government should recognise the severity and that this is a new reality, this is the new norm, sadly. If I had the funding, we may have been spared. How many more dead bodies will we have to see before we act?»
In 2017, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hired Brad Orsini, a retired FBI agent, as a «community security director.» He immediately began training the staff and members of Jewish organizations all over the region. He had conducted more than 100 training sessions before last October, when 11 worshippers were shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue.
«Its very sad, isn’t it? We have to train congregants to be safe so they can pray,» Orsini said on Sunday on the way back from a training session at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which had been attended by more than 200 people.
The protocol he teaches has not changed — how to be aware of signs of hate in your area, how to evacuate, where to hide if evacuation is not possible, how to fight if there are no hiding places and, ultimately, how to treat the wounded.
What has changed, he said, is the interest.
«We now have 100 per cent buy-in,» he said, which goes beyond the Jewish community, with requests coming in from organisations of different faiths for him to come in and discuss a plan for security.
At the Islamic Centre of Fredericksburg, Virginia, parents have started to take turns sitting in their cars in the parking lot to keep watch after dropping their kids off for Sunday school.
Sara Shanab, 23, whose family goes to the mosque, said she feels more anxiety as the presidential election season draws near. Her community has experienced harassment before, but fear was heightened after the shootings in New Zealand last month, when a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques.
«The community comes together under times of chaos and stress,» she said. «I do feel a sense of safety in that.»
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said active shooter drills had become more common for church staff and security teams. His church in Nashville, Tennessee, on Sunday morning included a lament for how many shootings and acts of violence in places of worship there have been in recent months.
«Every religious group feels vulnerable right now as the violence feels unpredictable and chaotic,» he said. «We can disagree about all sorts of important things, even ultimate things, but surely every person ought to agree that no one should be gunned down in worship.»
On Sunday morning, Goldstein thought of the children who witnessed the attack, including his four-year-old granddaughter. «She doesn’t deserve that. Our people, we’ve been through hell and back. I need our Jewish brethren to stand strong and really, really be proud of our heritage.»
New York Times