On Friday afternoon, with just a few hours before sundown and the start of the Sabbath, David Parvey hurried to a South Philadelphia gun shop called Firing Line to get his new 9-millimeter pistol.
To Parvey, who attends an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Center City, it felt like the only rational response to the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 congregants were killed.
“I legally have the right to at least be able to match evil with some sort of response, and in my mind I would be dumb not to,” said Parvey, who on Wednesday went to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Gun Permit Unit to apply for a concealed-carry license. “I don’t want to hide behind the bimah waiting for my turn to get shot.”
“This shooting in Pittsburgh has turned me into an activist,” said Rahel Pachter, 61, of Merion, who met up with a couple of women from her synagogue on Sunday for breakfast, followed by a conversation about gun safety and a group trip to the firing range. “I feel like I have to start moving this, and I have to start getting more people involved in their security.”
It’s controversial, said Pachter, who got licensed about a year ago and, in frightening times, takes comfort from the reassuring weight of her Ruger LCP II or Taurus 709 Slim in its holster. Her rabbi doesn’t want congregants carrying in synagogue.
“It’s not something you’re supposed to even touch on the Sabbath,” she said. “I’m a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. I lost all my aunts and uncles in the Holocaust, and I’m going to go down fighting. I’m not walking into a gas chamber. I’m not going to stand there like a sitting duck … and get shot at. I refuse.”
Meanwhile, at Cherev Gidon, a Scranton-area facility where Israeli Defense Forces veteran Yonatan Stern, 35, runs tactical training courses, dozens of Jewish people — many from the Philadelphia area — have signed up for training.
“I have not hired enough instructors given this amount of demand,” Stern said. “It’s just an unprecedented event.”
Cherev Gidon means Sword of Gideon. It’s a biblical reference to the Book of Judges.
And then there’s the lefty response.
Most of the demand is coming from Orthodox and, to a lesser degree, Conservative communities, he said — not so much Reform ones. Those trends align with political affiliations of many congregants: Orthodox Jews were more likely to vote Republican and to approve of President Trump’s performance.
“The Jewish community is feeling a lot of palpable grief and anger right now, at the way the GOP is stoking white nationalism, which has led to violence,” said Rebecca Hornstein, who joined a group of Jewish community members in sitting shivah outside Wagner’s Philadelphia campaign office and left memorial stones on the sidewalk.
She said no one she’s talked to is looking to buy a gun: “For us, safety comes from solidarity.”
Only protesting Republicans will them safe. Also it’s time to accuse Jews of racism.
There are questions about this approach — particularly among Jewish people of color, who have voiced grave concerns over the harm that could come from turning armed police or volunteers loose in synagogues.
“A lot of security training in this country has been geared toward seeing brown people as perpetrators,” said Jared Jackson, the founder of Jews in All Hues, an advocacy and consulting organization based in Philadelphia.
Sure. Let’s talk about this instead of how to keep synagogues safe. And then shift over to a detailed conversation about the patriarchy, the invisible knapsack and how to be better targets.