Every Sunday morning, Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, along with his dedicated team, makes their way to Piru to educate members of the Jewish community on firearm usage and self-defense. Following the terror attack on Israel this past October 7th, there has been a significant surge in interest in the training classes provided by Magen Am, a nonprofit organization founded by Rabbi Eilfort. Until recent events, Magen Am focused on offering security and patrol services as well as training for safeguarding synagogues and neighborhoods. Now, the organization is also catering to teaching the use of firearms to a wider demographic which includes Orthodox and secular men and women, some of whom had never considered owning, let alone handling, a firearm before. The goal is to teach them how to use a gun safely and responsibly. For the past month, the classes are filling up fast, as the community watches in shock reports about attacks of pro-Palestinians on Jews, vandalism of Jewish stores and properties.
On a recent Sunday, November 5th, we met them at a shooting range located about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. The journey takes you on the 5 Freeway through breathtaking landscapes of lush green mountains, leading to a small city before veering onto a dirt road that leads to the shooting range. Participants, included women in long skirts and headscarves, men wearing yarmulkes and Tziziot, a few middle-aged couples and a woman with a full arm tattoo. They all arrived at 11am for their Pistol 101 Training session. For most, it marked their first encounter with a firearm as they gathered to grasp the fundamental rules of safety, proper handling, aiming, and shooting.
Despite more attendees than initially registered, Rabbi Eilfort and his team of trained instructors graciously accommodated everyone. While the echoes of gunfire resonated from nearby shooting ranges, Rabbi Eilfort illustrated responsible firearm use, underscoring the essential golden rules:
- Never point your gun at anything you do not intend to shoot.
- Treat all guns as though they are loaded.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
The class was designed to be simple enough for anyone to comprehend, akin to a “Shooting a Gun for Dummies” guide. After a two-hour instructional session, participants practiced with BB guns before progressing to live rounds. However, mastery requires multiple sessions to gain comfort and ensure proper handling.
Leah, in her early 40s, told the Jewish Journal that this was her first lesson. “I attended one of their lectures at Emek Hebrew Academy and decided to join. Though I don’t own a gun yet, I’m planning on getting one soon. My husband contemplated this after the riots three years ago, but I was hesitant. Now, it feels imperative. The rise in anti-Semitism has left us feeling the need to protect ourselves. I was born and raised in L.A and relatively I always felt safe here, but no longer.”
Shelhee Gal and her husband, Steve Kossover, acquired three guns in recent years. Gal, an Israeli who relocated to the US in 1990, shared, “We saw it coming, we saw things declining here a few years ago. We have an SOS group on WhatsApp, and whenever a community member is in trouble, those nearby rushes to their aid. Just a week ago, there was an attempted kidnapping of Jews in Culver City, and community members promptly responded and prevented it from happening. This group was opened following the massacre in Israel. We need to be there for each other, we can’t only count on the police.”
Gal and Kossover navigated the process to acquire a CCW (Carry Concealed Weapon) license, a procedure that took about a year. Magen Am aids community members in the training required to obtaining such a license. Gal, the owner of Uniquely Real Estate, mentioned she no longer wears her Magen David necklace for safety reasons. “Meeting clients in vacant properties poses risks; these times call for heightened caution.”
Rabbi Eilfort is no-doubt not your average Rabbi. On top of being a firearm instructor he is also a Martial Artist. Ten years ago, at 22 years-old he won his first amateur MMA match by a technical knockout. Back then he already stated his goal to encourage fitness in the Orthodox Jewish community and promote an awareness of self-defense. A few years later, he had established Magen-Am and recently it had been added to the Sheriff’s West Hollywood station emergency plan for the Jewish community. The organization has a team of volunteers as well as hired professional armed security men.
“We’re always running classes. We have so much demand from people who want to sign up for classes and we try to filter them the best we can,” said the Rabbi in an interview before the beginning of our Sunday class. “On our first session today, we took people who were former military who have shooting experience and we did basic assessment to know where to put them and now we are going to have our basic class. We have two back to back classes today.”
The plan is to run the classes twice a week, for beginners as well as for more experienced shooters who want to volunteer and protect their synagogues and communities. “The main goal is to get community members to be licensed and step up as security team for their institutions.”
If you want to register for classes or attend one of the 101 lectures, please visit: https://magenam.com/training-calendar/