fbpx

Thousand Oaks Intersection Where Paul Kessler Died Has Been Turned Into a Memorial

There have been vigils held in Kessler’s honor during the evenings.
[additional-authors]
November 18, 2023
Elena Colombo creates a Star of David at a makeshift memorial at the site of an altercation between 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who was Jewish, and pro-Palestinian protestor on November 7, 2023 in Thousand Oaks, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

When driving through Thousand Oaks on November 6, Elena Colombo noticed “police pegs” at the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard. It wasn’t until later that she learned that’s where Paul Kessler, 69, died following an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester. She then helped turn that intersection into a memorial for Kessler.

Elena Colombo, a West Hills resident and Hamakom synagogue member who describes herself as a “Jew by choice,” told the Journal in an interview at the intersection on the evening of November 9 that she saw an Instagram post stating, “Pro-Israeli man dies after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian.” Kessler was among the pro-Israel protesters and had been holding an Israeli flag. The sheriff’s office has since announced the arrest of the suspect, 50-year-old Moorpark resident and college professor Loay Alnaji, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and battery. Alnaji had pleaded not guilty to the charges and his lawyer has argued that video evidence will prove that his client did not kill Kessler.

Regardless, the intersection has become adorned with Israeli flags, yahrzeit candles and flowers. Colombo told the Journal that she “wanted to be a virtual shomerit,” the Hebrew term used to describe a guardian of the deceased’s body, as she is a volunteer for a chevra kadisha. The Chevra Kadisha is a Jewish group that prepares the deceased’s body for burial. While she was standing the intersection, Colombo noticed “spilled blood” and told another woman nearby that she didn’t want to leave. “And I said, ‘I want to get a candle,’ and she goes, ‘I’m gonna get candle,’” Colombo recalled, “and then … one person came here and another came here, and it just grew. And then I became friends with some Israelis, they put me in a group and we’re here every day. And I try to stay later in the evening always with other people holding space.”

Colombo explained that on November 7, she drew a Star of David around “our lost blood of my brother from another mother” and has since maintained everything. “I keep telling people to light a candle when they’re ready, hold space,” she said.

Colombo also aims “to have as many positive words from the Torah written on the sidewalk that talk about love” and often wears her Israeli flag while at the intersection. “I’ve had lots of positivity, people for it, and when I have someone who says horrible things, I turn around and I say, ‘I love you man,’” Colombo said. “Because the world is so shattered and we need love. I’ve seen the effect where someone’s screaming and they’re parked at the red light and they have more time to insult me … and all I say is, ‘One love brother’ and I see the change.” Colombo said that she has been asked how she sends love in moments where people spew hatred at her; her reply: “I’m Jewish. This is what we do.”

There have been vigils held in Kessler’s honor during the evenings. “The first night we did it we had a very, very large crowd … and we sang,” Colombo said. “We sang, we held, we talked, ‘What else can we do?’ When we come, we invite all, and this space has grown into a community coming to share our respect, to cry, to be held, to know that we are not alone. And we stand together.” Colombo recounted that some Catholics have also stopped by, and told her that their entire church will be coming to a demonstration held in Kessler’s honor at the intersection on Sunday morning.

Colombo said that she has found it difficult to leave the intersection at night since she’s not sure what the memorial will look like the following morning. “As of today, it just gets bigger and fuller,” she said, recalling how community members she never met put stakes to keep Israeli flags upright at the intersection.

Photo by Aaron Bandler

The Journal talked to some community members who dropped by the intersection on the evening of November 9. Sharon Sadon, who runs a store in the area, told the Journal, “The community’s devastated. We are very, very sad. We lost one of our friends. Most of us knew Paul, I know his wife as well, they’re one of our customers at the shop … the last few days, every customer that’s been coming to the store has been talking about the whole situation, has been talking about Paul. Everybody’s heartbroken.” Sadon said that he only met Kessler “once or twice,” but described him as “a very nice person.”

Shula Bryski, the Rebbetzin of the Chabad of Thousand Oaks and wife of the Chabad Rabbi Moshe Bryski, told the Journal at the intersection, “The Chabad Lubavitch rebbe, who is our mentor, he taught us that in a time of darkness, we all have the power to add light. In a time of such ugliness, I think the beauty of kindness and light is even more prevalent, and that’s what the world needs now: to combat the darkness with light.”

Bryski described the “light” as “Jews walking proudly as Jews, doing mitzvos, embracing their identities as Jews and loving their fellow, reaching out to other people … getting out of our comfort zone to really truly be kind. That’s how we combat the hatred in this world.” Bryski said that her husband has spoken with Kessler’s widow and that “she is the sweetest woman but she is in shock.”

Bryski said that the community is “understandably shaken” about what happened to Kessler, and that she and her husband have been telling people that the only thing they have the power to do right now is “to add light.” “Acts of kindness make a difference,” she said. “You’re extra kind to a slow barista on her first day at work, you smile and tell her she’s doing great, and then she’s filled with that sense of well-being, and that spills over into how she treats the next customer and it fills her with confidence and then that impacts the next person and it’s contagious, it doesn’t end. So our acts of kindness have a tremendously powerful effect.”

Sadon said he has heard from the community that Kessler was “hit with a megaphone in the head [and] fell backwards” and has heard from witnesses that “it was an assault.” “The guy needs to be in jail no matter what, if it’s murder, if it’s manslaughter, if it’s an assault that guy needs to be in jail,” Sadon said, “and the community––the Israeli community, the Jewish community––are not gonna rest until this guy is in jail.” The sheriff’s office had previously said in their November 7 press conference they have not confirmed that Kessler was hit in the head with a megaphone, but acknowledged that it could be a possibility.

Alnaji’s lawyer, Ron Bamieh, has alleged that Kessler was shouting obscenities at pro-Palestinian protesters and “he put his phone in the face of my client and my client brushed the phone away.”  According to the Associated Press, Bamieh also claimed that it’s possible that “Alnaji may have struck at the phone with a megaphone and unintentionally hit Kessler in the face,” and that video footage will show that Alnaji was several feet away from Kessler when he fell and thus did not cause Kessler to fall.

Regarding the memorial at the intersection Sadan said: “Our community’s beautiful. I’m in tears. Nothing but love to our people.”

“Am Yisrael Chai,” Bryski said. “We will prevail. We have been through hard times … and we’re still here, and we’re gonna get through this.”

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.