‘Shock and disbelief’: injured rabbi’s sister in Sydney speaks
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‘Shock and disbelief’: injured rabbi’s sister in Sydney speaks

The Sydney-based sister of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein has spoken of her "shock and disbelief" upon hearing news of the Poway synagogue shooting in California.

Rebbetzin Shternie Ulman (centre) with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and sister Leah Perl.
Rebbetzin Shternie Ulman (centre) with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and sister Leah Perl.

THE Australian-based sister of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot when a gunman stormed his synagogue in San Diego, killing one congregant and injuring three others, has spoken of her “shock and disbelief” upon hearing news of the attack.

Sydney’s Rebbetzin Shternie Ulman, the wife of Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe’s Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, spoke exclusively to The AJN this week about her special bond with her brother, who made international headlines for his courage in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in the hands, walks towards a press conference with Poway Mayor Steve Vaus outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California on April 28, 2019. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images)

The shooting took place at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Pesach, exactly six months after the Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed and three people, including Rabbi Goldstein and an eight-year-old girl, were injured.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered at the Chabad of Poway shooting that occurred on the Passover and Shabbat of April 27, 2019 (Photo: Facebook)

“I was woken up Sunday morning just after 6am to a call from my niece who was frantic and asked me if I heard the news about the shooting in my brother’s shule,” Rebbetzin Ulman told The AJN.

“She told me that he was shot in the hands, and sent me news clips. I was in shock and disbelief. It made me sick to my stomach the thought of it.”

Rebbetzin Ulman said she called the hospital, but her brother couldn’t speak as it was still Shabbat. He passed on the message that “he is going into surgery and he will be okay”. 

“It was very difficult to wait until we were able to speak with the family which was nine hours later, around 3pm here in Sydney. We spoke to my brother’s son and wife to get all the details,” she said.

It was only much later, after surgery, that Rebbetzin Ulman was able to speak to her brother.

She said Rabbi Goldstein “reacted to this terrible ordeal as a real leader to his community in every sense”.

“He had the presence of mind, after facing the terrorist face to face and having two fingers blown off, to focus on saving the children and then making sure the rest of the congregation were safe.

“He refused to go with paramedics until everyone was accounted for and then spoke uplifting words of comfort and encouragement.”

Rabbi Goldstein continued his sermon outside the shule building, where he and his members waited for the authorities to arrive.

“I got out there and just spoke from my heart, just giving everyone the courage to know, it was just about 70 years ago during the Holocaust that we were gunned down like this,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “And I just want to let our fellow Americans know we aren’t going to let this happen here.”

Rebbetzin Ulman said her brother’s response was not surprising. “He is that sort of a person,” she said. 

“My brother told us that it was never a question in his mind what had to be done.”

US President Donald Trump phoned Rabbi Goldstein to “express comfort and consolation” following the attack.

“The conversation which was around 15 minutes long was relaxed and friendly,” Rebbetzin Ulman said, adding the pair discussed the need to fight hatred, violence and terrorism.

Rebbetzin Ulman said she is “very close” to her brother. “He’s closest to me in age from all my siblings and has a very special relationship with my family.”

Rebbetzin Ulman also paid tribute to Gilbert-Kaye, who has been remembered as a pillar of the Chabad of Poway community.

“We were devastated to learn that Lori Kaye was killed. We have known both her and her husband and they are such special people,” she said.

Rebbetzin Ulman said that despite “so much senseless hatred and killing” taking place all over the world, “Ultimately we have to remember that Hashem runs the world. 

“Living in fear is not an answer – it is counterproductive and gives the haters what they want.”

The rebbetzin, together with her family, will be among attendees at a memorial event to be held at Sydney’s Central Synagogue in the forthcoming days.

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