Long Beach rabbi hopes to spread message of empathy amid ‘fragmented nation’

When Rabbi Steven Moskowitz first heard about the deadly shooting that took place in a Pittsburgh synagogue nearly a week ago, his initial reaction was horror, shock and deep sadness. But that reaction quickly gave way to protection of his congregation, Temple Israel in Belmont Heights.

About 50 adults were getting ready for a Torah study session that morning, according to Moskowitz, which was going to be followed later by a bar mitzvah service for one of the students.

“One of the first things I did was I noticed that sitting in the lobby was one of our congregants, Bill Gonshak, who had just dropped his daughter off for our seventh-grade class,” Moskowitz said.

Gonshak is a member of the SWAT team for the Seal Beach Police Department.

“I immediately went over to him and said ‘Are you aware of this?’ he said, ‘Absolutely’,” Moskowitz recounted.

Gonshak had also already notified the congregation’s private security and, at Moskowitz’s  request, notified the Long Beach Police Department ,which responded quickly with a marked unit that remained at Temple Israel for the rest of the day.

Temple Israel has been targeted before. It was vandalized in 2012 and 2013—just after a major renovation of its building was completed. Vandals spray-painted swastika symbols and the word “Nazi.” and later, someone hurled a brick through the temple’s window.

Moskowitz sees these incidents as lessons that show how many people in the country are broken.

While congregants felt distressed in the days after the shooting, the temple received an outpouring of support, condolences and even flowers from the larger Long Beach community. What Moskowitz also found out was that those outside the congregation also needed a way to process the information and the pain.

As surrounding Jewish congregations organized vigils this past week, Moskowitz said his congregation decided to organize a community-wide interfaith gathering scheduled for this Saturday, Nov. 3.

“People are quite distressed, and I think are looking forward for another opportunity to come together in fellowship with others, especially fellowship with a broad swath of our Long Beach community,” Moskowitz said.

The nighttime event on Saturday will feature speeches from Mayor Robert Garcia, Councilwoman Suzie Price, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, leaders from the Islamic, Christian and LGBTQ communities and Moskowitz himself.

“I’m hoping to relay the message that a community based upon empathy and compassion and respect is what will help heal this increasingly fragmented nation that we’re all a part of,” he said. “What we have to offer is a sense of healing and wholeness and we need to continue expanding on that message of healing and wholeness.”

In addition to the interfaith event, community members across the city and North America are also being invited to “Show Up For Shabbat” services this Saturday. The Alpert Jewish Community Center will be taking part in this movement with a service at 10 a.m., along with Temple Beth Shalom, which is holding Shabbat at 7:45 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.

According to a report from the county’s Commission on Human Relations, reports of hate crimes rose 5 percent in 2017. It’s part of a trend that’s seen hate crimes increase 32 percent since 2013.


Moskowitz also cited a recent study on hate crimes released by Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism which showed that as hate crime rose, general crime was on a decline.

“What that’s showing is it’s a reflection of the increasing fragmentation of the American society as a whole,” Moskowitz said.

Despite these increases in hate crimes that target not just Jews but different groups within the country, Moskowitz is hopeful.

“The work of building a community based upon love and compassion and mutual respect is going to continue even stronger than before and we shall overcome,” Moskowitz said.

Temple Israel is located at 269 Loma Ave. Temple Beth Shalom is located at 3635 Elm Ave. The Alpert Jewish Community Center is located at 3801 Willow St.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.