Column: L.A. Synagogue Shootings: The Personal and the Perilous

Column: L.A. Synagogue Shootings: The Personal and the Perilous

Decades ago, I most likely walked past the site of a Los Angeles synagogue near where Guy Taieb, 73, was wounded in a drive-by shooting last Thursday, an incident likely motivated by antisemitism.

Long before Taieb moved to Los Angeles, I spent an afternoon visiting Santa Monica, and then I headed back to my uncle and aunt’s home where they hosted me that week with free lodging and sumptuous four-course breakfasts. Or was that five-course breakfasts? From a bus stop on Pico Boulevard, I walked south on Bedford Street and must have passed the site of Taieb’s shul, a block north of my relative’s home.

Taieb left France for Los Angeles 15 years ago because of the spike in antisemitic incidents in Europe, according to The Forward website.

My Los Angeles hosts probably drove me past the Pinto Center site when showing me around town. Both my uncle (my father’s older brother) and aunt passed away more than two decades ago, and their two sons have exited southern California. One of my uncle’s granddaughters later replanted the family roots a short drive from the synagogue, and she is raising two of my uncle and aunt’s great-grandchildren.

I naturally shuddered when I learned that the Pinto Center was one of two temples where Jewish men were hurt in drive-bys last week in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, now Los Angeles’ bastion for Orthodox Jews.

This is my latest experience with a shooting that hits home, so to speak. I did not need Taieb’s ordeal to remind me of the ongoing gun violence that haunts us so long as Congress conspires with shooters to murder our fellow citizens.

The week’s turmoil commenced with Wednesday’s attack (last week) on an unidentified 47-year-old man who was shot twice when he walked from a synagogue to his car at 9:55 a.m. The next morning, at 8:30, Taieb was shot twice in the right arm on Bedford Street, three blocks from the scene of Wednesday’s incident. Both men were hospitalized, and Taieb, 73, the next day returned to the Pinto Center, an Orthodox French-Moroccan shul, to thank God for his survival.

The grandfather of 10 recounted the incident to a Forward reporter, saying that he was walking home from the Pinto Center when a sedan pulled up alongside him. The driver wore a black mask and said nothing before pulling out a gun and firing at him. “He was looking for Jewish people for sure,” he said.

Police arrested Jamie Thanh Tran, 28, near Palm Springs later the same day. Police said they recovered an “AK-style” rifle and a .380-caliber handgun from Tran’s car, The New York Times reports. The police complaint said the handgun was “consistent with the firearm believed to have been used in the shootings” outside the temples based on shell casings that were recovered at the scenes.

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles said in a statement that law enforcement informed them that the suspect had a “history of animus towards the Jewish community.” The statement added that the case was being treated as a hate crime and that the U.S. Attorney will prosecute, according to the Forward.

The federal complaint said that Tran sent threatening anti-Jewish text messages and emails to former classmates at a dental school between August and November 2022, according to the Times. One former classmate told investigators that Tran was expelled from the school in 2018.

One can say that Taieb was lucky to survive Thursday’s attack – unlike the 11 Tree of Life congregants in Pittsburgh who were massacred, in my home state; the woman who was killed inside a synagogue near San Diego, where one of my publishers is located; the multiple murders in a Jersey City kosher grocery store, across from the Hudson from New York City, where I took numerous day trips; and the 12-hour hostage drama in Colleyville, Texas, whose rabbi now serves a temple in Winston-Salem, N.C., where a family friend’s niece now lives.

Note the personal connections of these Jewish-targeted incidents, however slight or implied. They compelled me to think deeper about gun violence.

Likewise, there are personal connections in my Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, once a safe area where two gunfire murders occurred a few miles from my apartment. I am a native Philadelphian and spent much of my life in the city, which today qualifies as a war zone.

When I started to compose this piece last Saturday, a security officer at Temple University was fatally shot in the head a few blocks from where I attended college. Another of my publishers is located in Boulder, Colo., the site of another massacre.

Taieb would have been luckier if guns were not so easy to obtain. He resides in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, but his assailant could have acquired his weapons from a neighboring state with lax gun laws.

Such is the case with many shootings in America because most Republicans in Congress refuse to support strong gun-safety laws. They benefit from expanded power because of an anachronistic system that allows every senator the same amount of voting clout, whether a state’s senators represent nearly 40 million voters (as in California) or less than 600,000 (like Wyoming). The Senate’s filibuster permits the minority party to block critical legislation.

Their inaction amounts to collusion. They know that demented people who can access guns are killing other Americans, and they keep letting it happen.

Even when they are personally impacted, Republicans maintain their public stance. House Majority Leader Stephen Scalise of Louisiana was severely wounded when he was shot in the left hip on June 14, 2017, and returned to the House more than three months later.

“Don’t try to put new laws in place that don’t fix these problems,” Scalise said on “Meet the Press.” “They only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own a gun.”

Maybe he could have saved some lives if he was sane or truthful, but his political career came first. He was elected House majority leader when Republicans retook the House majority last November, making him second in line to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

What an epitaph for Scalise: “He took a bullet for his party.”

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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