'When This Happens, You Get a Wake-up Call': U.S. Jews Turn to Firearms Training After Pittsburgh Shooting

Hundreds of interested students contacted one tactical defense instructor in the last 72 hours. All but three or four were Jewish

Reuters
Reuters
Jonathan Stern (R) and two other trainees demonstrate a takeover exercise against a hostile element as they take part in the Cherev Gidon Firearms Training Academy in Honesdale, PA, U.S. Aug. 5, 2018.
Jonathan Stern (R) and two other trainees demonstrate a takeover exercise against a hostile element as they take part in the Cherev Gidon Firearms Training Academy in Honesdale, PA, U.S. Aug. 5, 2018.Credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ / REUTERS
Reuters
Reuters

David Ortner adjusted his yarmulke, cocked his pistol and took aim - something he wishes a civilian had done to defend Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue three days ago when Robert Bowers walked in and shot 11 people dead.

“When this happens, you get a wake-up call,” said Ortner, a 28-year-old owner of an optician shop in Monsey, New York.

Ortner was one of nine Jewish men who attended a one-day course on Tuesday at the privately owned Cherev Gidon Israeli Tactical Defense Academy near Scranton, Pennsylvania, a class that was scheduled on Sunday in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue attack.

Participants show their personal weapons as they take part in the Cherev Gidon Firearms Training Academy in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 5, 2018.Credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ / REUTERS

He was there to learn how to use a gun to protect himself and his community and prevent a repeat of Saturday’s massacre, the deadliest targeting Jewish people in U.S. history.

>> Why I call the Pittsburgh massacre a pogrom, and Trump a czar | Opinion

“The fact is, we’re at war,” said Yonatan Stern, a veteran officer of the Israel Defense Forces and director of the academy, told his class. “We want every Jew in America armed.”

In the six years since Stern started the academy, demand for firearms training had never been higher than after Saturday’s attack. Hundreds of interested students contacted Stern in the last 72 hours. All but three or four were Jewish.

Trainees practice an Israeli shooting method as they take part in the Cherev Gidon Firearms Training Academy in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 5, 2018.Credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ / REUTERS

The spike in demand follows President Donald Trump’s statement that the shooting might have been prevented if the synagogue had employed an armed guard.

But many Jews have resisted the idea that having guns in synagogues is the best way to prevent such attacks.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of the Kansas Interfaith Action, an advocacy organization, said on Tuesday that he did not believe Trump’s call for more armed guards could prevent attacks on places of worship.

“What kind of country we’re going to be if every house of worship has to have an armed guard?” Rieber said. “I think having less access to that kind of weaponry is going to be much more effective in the long run than having a single armed guard.”

>> While Trump is president, violence against Jews will keep rising. We must prepare accordingly | Opinion

According to Stern, an armed guard at a synagogue is a useful deterrent but not a replacement for armed civilians, since a shooter could kill the armed guard before entering and killing congregants.

Trainees practice push-up exercises as a part of a special tactic called "shooting after effort", which is part of the Cherev Gidon Firearms Training Academy in Honesdale, PA, U.S. August 5, 2018. Credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ / REUTERS

“To wait for law enforcement to arrive simply is not the answer,” Stern said.

Some of the students attending the course were card-carrying National Rifle Association members. Some had never fired a gun before. Two worked in schools and wanted to defend Jewish children. Many of them intended to bring guns to their synagogues on the next Sabbath for protection.

“Everybody has to find a way to react; this is my way,” said Zev Guttman, who said he was scared of guns until Saturday’s shooting convinced him he had to be armed.

Tuesday’s course, held in a log cabin on an outdoor shooting range in rural Honesdale, about 300 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, consisted of active-shooter response drills using handguns and rifles. Students practiced drawing concealed weapons, loading and firing AR-15 rifles at bulls-eye targets.

Stern said that it “touches my heart” to see his students in training because he knows they will return to their synagogues as a first line of defense.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

נתניהו עם כיפה שחורה על הראש נשען בשתי ידיו על הכותל

Israel Is Heading for Its Most 'Jewish' Election Ever

An El Al jet sits on the tarmac at John C. Munro International Airport in Hamilton, Thursday, in 2003.

El Al to Stop Flying to Toronto, Warsaw and Brussels

FILE PHOTO: A Star of David hangs from a fence outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood in 2021.

American Judaism Is in Decline. That's Great News for American Jews

Crowds at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, in April.

U.S. Official: West Bank Entry for Palestinian Americans Unrelated to Israeli Visa Waivers

Haaretz spoke with several people who said they had fled Ukraine, arrived in Israel,  and were asked to undergo DNA tests in order to establish paternity.

'My Jewish Grandmother Has a Number on Her Arm, Why Does Israel Greet Me This Way?'

People taking part in the annual "March of the Living" to commemorate the Holocaust, between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, four years ago.

It’s Not Just the Holocaust. Israel Is Failing to Teach the History of the Jews