Phil Raimi, who has attended Chabad of Poway for 20 years, says, “We are not going to let hate stop us.”
By Keri Guten Cohen
Featured photo courtesy of Phil Raimi
Oak Park native Phil Raimi and his son Aaron, 22, stayed up late last Friday night and slept in Saturday morning. Raimi chose not to wake his son to go to shul for Shabbat services and Yizkor on the last day of Passover — that decision may have saved them from harm.
“I feel like it was almost Divine intervention,” said Phil, 62, who moved to the San Diego area in 1982. “My mind keeps flashing back to if we had gone to Chabad of Poway and that guy had barged in.”
On April 27, six months to the day of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a teen armed with an assault rifle entered Chabad of Poway (20 miles north of San Diego) and began shooting after making an anti-Semitic slur. Alleged shooter John Earnest injured three people and killed one — Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, a dedicated synagogue member. In news reports, the mayor of Poway has called the shooting a hate crime.
Raimi, his wife, Susie, and sons David, 25, and Aaron know Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Lori Gilbert-Kaye and members of the congregation. The Raimis live in Rancho Bernardo, about eight minutes from Chabad of Poway. David and Aaron attended preschool there and, although not a weekly attendee, Phil goes to minyan there and other services and programs.
The JN reached Raimi as he was leaving a vigil for the victims at a neighborhood church. He drove by Chabad of Poway on his way home and also passed where the suspect’s car still stood behind barricades. He noted the bullet holes.
Raimi describes the community as very family-oriented, a nice community of middle- and upper-middle class families, a mixture of all kinds of people.
“How could a 19-year-old kid who grew up here be so filled with hate?” he asks almost to himself.
“I suspect he might have been aware of the ending of Passover and saying Yizkor,” said Raimi, a technical writer for a cloud computing company. “There would be a lot more people there than on a normal Shabbat. I suspect that didn’t escape his thought process.
“It’s shocking. You go to a shul for so many years. You go for Pesach and Yizkor and get gunned down. It’s crazy. Security has crossed my mind … What would happen if a lunatic came through and shot things up? I am in shock that this happened where I know everyone.”
He said Saturday that his wife and Aaron were very upset by the attack; his other son David focused his attention on gathering information on the incident. Family members across the country reached out to lend support as did friends from Oak Park and from his family’s long association with Congregation B’nai Moshe.
Driven by the memory of his late father, Saul, who was a Holocaust survivor, Raimi says he feels strongly about not giving in to the anti-Semitic hatred.
“For me personally, this won’t stop me,” he said. “We’ve had a difference of opinion in the family; my wife’s a bit hesitant to go back there, but I’m not going to let it stop me. It didn’t stop my father and what he went through in the Shoah.
“If we let stuff like this stop the Jewish people, we would’ve been stopped a long time ago … We are not going to let hate stop us.”
Raimi also notes that his thinking has changed about the Second Amendment over the years to a less liberal stance. This Shabbat, he said he was thankful an off-duty Border Patrol agent at the shul tried to stop the shooter as he fled.
“I am against attempts to disarm people” Raimi said. “My father survived the Shoah and one of the first things Hitler did was to disarm the population … I don’t want places of worship to be armed camps, but it’s crazy to disarm people — and that’s the way I see it now.”