(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — A man fired blanks from a handgun at a Jewish center in San Francisco Wednesday, shocking a group gathered for a study session in a community space serving mainly Russian-speaking Jews.
But no one present called police, so it was not until word of the incident began circulating in the community that authorities became involved. Now, local police and the FBI are searching for the man, whom they believe may have been the same person who brandished a gun at a local theater earlier in the week.
The man entered the Schneerson Center around 7:20 p.m. in the middle of a session on the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, according to Rabbi Bentzion Pil, who leads the community.
After the man entered, Pil said he first asked whether he wanted to join their session. It soon became clear that was not his intention.
Instead, the man pulled out a gun and said in accented Russian that he was from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, and that he was going to start shooting, attendees said. Other outlets reported that he may have announced, “Say hello to Mossad for me.”
“I thought he was joking,” Pil told J. The Jewish News of Northern California on Thursday. “He looked like a Russian Jew.”
Located in a Richmond District neighborhood near what’s often called Little Russia, the Schneerson Center is a node of Jewish life for immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the Bay Area, where households from the former Soviet Union number between 15,000 and 20,000, according to Rabbi Shimon Margolin, who leads a local nonprofit serving Russian-speaking Jews.
A jarring video of the incident captured on a security camera shows what unfolded: A man wearing a baseball cap, jacket and sneakers enters the room and gestures animatedly with his arms while speaking to those seated around a table. After about 15 seconds, he reaches into his jacket pocket and reveals a handgun. He appears to struggle to cock the weapon, while an elderly man makes a phone call and starts walking toward him.
As the elderly man approaches, the suspect starts firing his weapon, and the elderly man crouches down. The man fires in a direction away from those seated around the table, then proceeds to fire around the room while some people clutch their ears and duck. In total the suspect fires between six and eight shots. Then he leaves.
“Everyone was stunned and shocked,” Pil said.
The video shows little movement from a dozen or so people around the table — many of whom are in their 60s or older, shul members said.
Pil said the group was perplexed. “It was so unexpected from him,” he said.
One person in the group said he might have seen the suspect before. After the shooting started, Pil said he went into the kitchen to grab a knife, but by the time he got back the man was gone.
After the man left, those gathered deliberated about whether to call the police, Pil said.
“I still believe it was just a crazy guy,” he said. “He didn’t scream any antisemitic words or expressions.”
Ultimately, Pil said, they decided it wasn’t worth contacting the police because they were unhurt and they doubted the man would be kept in detention for long if he was caught.
Only the next day was law enforcement contacted after some of the younger community members heard about what had happened.
“I was shaken,” said Alon Chanukov, who viewed the incident on security footage. He said he reached the San Francisco Police Department Thursday morning and was told the matter would be referred to the investigations unit.
Chanukov said the video disturbed him greatly.
“There is a man, with a gun, who was in my shul. And I see elderly people cowering as he is firing his gun,” he said.
“This is a terrorist attack. The point of this was to cause terror,” Chanukov said. “Not to kill people. But to literally terrify Jews, as best as I can see.”
Statistics compiled by the California attorney general’s office show a rise in hate crimes targeting Jews over the last 10 years. Jews are the most frequent target of religiously motivated hate crimes in the state, numbers that accord with national figures.
Mattie Pil, the rabbi’s wife, lent another interpretation as to why the mostly senior Jews from the former Soviet Union did not contact police.
“They still feel like they’re in the Soviet Union,” she said. “There, when something happens, it’s always the fault of the Jews. If you called police, it would be your fault. So they didn’t want to make any waves.”
This story was originally reported in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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