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Israeli paramedic delivers active shooter training at Calif. synagogue

Four years ago at Chabad of Poway a gunman opened fire during a Passover service, killing one of the congregants and wounding three others


Congregants of Chabad of Poway Synagogue participant in an on-hands training on how to save lives during an emergency from paramedics of Israel’s national EMS organization at Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, CA on Monday, May 15, 2023.

Adriana Heldiz / The San Diego Union-Tribune

By Caleb Lunetta
The San Diego Union-Tribune

POWAY, Calif. — Raphael Herbst was moving around the Chabad of Poway like he would if he had been called to the scene of a violent attack.

There was no incident to respond to Monday night at the synagogue, but Herbst — a senior paramedic with Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service — was teaching others how to save each other and themselves after a mass shooting or other type of attack.

During more than two hours of hands-on training, Herbst hustled around the synagogue campus, coaching attendees on how to apply a tourniquet to a wounded person lying on a pew. He watched as a trained doctor from the congregation used medical expertise to diagnose an injury while a woman helped a man pretending to be shot in his chest.

Herbst said he wanted to show the group that working together can save lives.

“We’re doing something different, something special,” Herbst said during the program at Chabad of Poway, where four years ago a gunman armed with a rifle opened fire during a Passover service, killing one of the congregants and wounding three others.

“This session focuses on a community, not an individual,” he said. “Individuals tend to freeze (in a situation) but we believe the power of community is always stronger.”

The simulation was a part of the First 7 Minutes seminar offered by Magen David Adom — Israel’s national emergency service. The program provides communities with the training they say people can use during the seven minutes it typically takes for first responders to arrive at the scene of an armed attack.

“We’ve done it in African American communities and churches, in Chicago, Milwaukee, and interfaith, interracial ones,” said Ronni Strongin, a spokesperson for Magen David Adom, referring to the program. “People are scared — people, churches and synagogues are being attacked. So we’re sharing knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning.”

The event was divided into a lecture portion in the beginning followed by the hands-on training session. During the second portion, participants played the roles of victims — wearing blood-stained shirts to indicate their wounds — and bystanders suddenly thrust into the role of rescuers.

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“I’m one that goes out of my way to help somebody,” said Eileen Cummings, who drove from Ramona for the event. “I believe in being prepared for medical purposes if there’s an emergency, and the recent incidents should be an eye-opener to anyone who attends any type of faith-based church or synagogue.”

Attendees discussed the possibility of future attacks given the sharp increase in antisemitic incidents reported in recent years. According to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League, the organization recorded 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States in 2022 — a 75 percent increase from 2019.

There have been more than 220 mass shootings across the U.S., so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed.

On April 27, 2019, a 19-year-old man entered Chabad of Poway and opened fire on congregants, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injuring the synagogue’s founding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, along with 8-year-old Noya Dahan and her uncle Almog Peretz, 34.

The gunman, John T. Earnest, was charged in state and federal court. Authorities said he had posted an open letter online before the shooting — a tirade of racist and antisemitic statements. He also praised mass shootings at a 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a New Zealand mosque earlier that year.

In 2021, he pleaded guilty to all the charges he faced in San Diego County, including murder, attempted murder and arson. The arson charge stemmed from a fire that had been deliberately set a fire at Escondido mosque Dar-ul-Arqam about a month before the shooting in Poway.

He admitted that both incidents were hate crimes.

He was sentenced in state court to life without parole and an additional 121 years to life sentence, plus 16 years. Two months later, he pleaded guilty in the federal case, admitting to all 113 charges. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years.

During the training Monday, Herbst laid out seven rules people should follow after a violent attack. The paramedic told people to avoid the area, if possible, organize the scene based on who can walk and who can’t, and allow emergency personnel to get injured people to hospitals quickly.

“Unfortunately, events can happen out of nothing in a matter of seconds,” Herbst said. “And the worst feeling for someone is to be at an event and to feel that there’s nothing they can do in order to help save someone’s life.”

Dr. Nate Rendler, who watched and participated in Monday’s program, said he was about 10 minutes late to the synagogue on April 27, 2019 after picking up his mother-in-law. He said he drove to the synagogue that morning and found people walking out the front door, bleeding and shocked.

Rendler said he attended the training session this week because learning emergency medicine “from the best” is important for anyone.

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