(WASHINGTON) — The heroes of Saturday’s Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting in California, along with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, attended an event marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday in the White House Rose Garden, alongside President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
Goldstein, who was shot in both hands in the attack, called the president a “Mensch par excellence” – a Yiddish term meaning a person of integrity and excellence — and credited him with helping him start to heal.
“Mr. President, when you called me, I was at home weeping. You were the first person who began my healing. You healed people in the worst of times and I’m so grateful for that,” Goldstein said.
He said many have asked him in the wake of the shooting: “Where do we go from here, how do we prevent this?” Goldstein suggested one step that could be taken would be to introduce a moment of silence in schools.
“When President Ronald Reagan was shot,” the rabbi said. “we needed to go back to the basics and introduce a moment of silence in all public schools so that, so that children from early childhood on could recognize that there’s more good to the world, that they are valuable, that there is accountability and every human being is created in God’s image. If something good can come out of this terrible, terrible, horrific event, let us bring back a moment of silence to our public-school system,” he said.
After Goldstein finished speaking, Trump complimented his “beautiful words” and said the rabbi had also told him that the greatest moment of his life was “to go from darkness to the White House.”
The president went on in the service to recall the Bible’s promise of hope and strength for believers and credited God with giving him and Vice President Mike Pence the strength to get through “these witch hunts and everything else.”
“As God promises in the Bible, those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on the wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary and they will walk and not be faint, and that’s something that Mike and I think about all the time, right Mike? Trump said.
“People say: ‘How do you get through that whole stuff? How do you through those witch hunts and everything else?’ You know what we do, Mike? We just do it, right? And we think about God,” Trump said.
Highlighting his administration’s efforts to protect religious freedom, he also credited himself for making the greeting “Merry Christmas” popular again. “When I first start campaigning, people were not allowed or foolishly ashamed to be using Merry Christmas,” the president claimed.
The president promised to fight and conquer “all forms of persecution, intolerance and hate.” He received a standing ovation after declaring every child born or unborn “as a sacred gift from God.”
Jonathan Morales, the off-duty border patrol agent who authorities said fired at the gunman as he left the synagogue, called for strength in acts of kindness and good in countering the evil found in the world and recalled the moment of confronting the gunman.
“We were attacked with our backs turned. You know, brave people stood up and confronted this person and we ended the situation, the best we could with the resources we had,” Morales said.
Army veteran Oscar Stewart, who reportedly chased after the gunman, said the shooting calls for strength and unity across faiths.
“We need to be strong a group of people that love God. Whether you call him Mohammed, whether you call him Shiva, whether you call him Yahweh, whatever you call him, we need to be strong, because that’s the way we’re going to defeat evil,”
Trump, who opened his remarks touching on the ongoing tension in Venezuela offered prayers and continued to extend the support of the United States.
“I’d like to begin by sending our prayers to the people of Venezuela in their righteous struggle for freedom. The brutal repression of the Venezuelan people must end and it must end soon,” the president said. “People are starving. They have no food. They have no water. This was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world.”
Speaking before Trump, Vice President Pence he said the president has suggested that every Cabinet meeting start with a prayer. Pence noted the Trump administration has celebrated the National Day of Prayer for the third year in a row. “Since the founding of this nation, the American people have believed in prayer,” Pence said.
Regarding the recent attacks at churches and places of worship, Pence specifically referenced the burning of black churches in Louisiana, which he will visit on Friday, the attacks on a New Zealand mosque and most recently at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California.
“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms.”
To people of faith everywhere, Pence said, “They have a champion and defender of faith and religious liberty in President Trump.”
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