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A Community on Edge

In a span of 24 hours, two Jews were shot in the same neighborhood. The details surrounding the shootings kept changing, which added to the anxiety.
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February 23, 2023
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February 15, 2023, 9:45 a.m.: A Jewish man in his 40s was shot on the 1400 block of Shenandoah Street in the Pico-Robertson area after leaving prayer services. Two gunshots were fired, one of which hit him in the back. He survived.

February 16, 2023, 8 a.m.: Another Jewish man, this one in his 70s, was shot in the same neighborhood, this time on the 1600 block of South Bedford Street. This victim was also leaving morning services when he was shot; the gunman fired three times, one of which hit the victim in the bicep. He also survived. According to one source, the bullet went through the victim’s arm. 

In a span of 24 hours, two shootings against Jews suddenly put a Jewish neighborhood on edge. The details surrounding the shootings kept changing, which added to the anxiety.

Law enforcement initially believed the two shootings were not connected and were done by two different people. It was also initially believed that the first shooting may have been the result of personal dispute rather than antisemitism, whereas the second one was being investigated as a hate crime.

Subsequently, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said they believed the two shootings were done by the same person and that they were hate crimes. This announcement prompted Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles Regional Director Jeffrey I. Abrams to issue a statement saying that “the LA Jewish community is on high alert.” 

A couple of hours later, the LAPD announced that a suspect had been arrested in Riverside County and was in custody. Abrams issued a follow-up statement that evening calling the arrest “a sigh of relief to L.A.’s Jewish community.” American Jewish Community (AJC) Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut tweeted that they were “relieved that the suspect in the Pico-Robertson shootings has been arrested. We commend @LAPDWestLA for their relentless pursuit of the alleged perpetrator and for treating these attacks as presumptive hate crimes. Keeping a community safe requires community-wide engagement. As horrific as the shootings were, we are heartened by the cooperation between @LAPDHQ and a host of community organizations. This is police-community relations at its best.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a February 17 statement, “Antisemitism and terror are tragically on the rise across our city and across our nation. My administration is resolute against hate, and we have made it a chief component of our public safety agenda.” District Attorney George Gascon’s office announced that they were handing over the matter to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office, as the shootings involved multiple jurisdictions and the gunman was being charged with federal hate crimes. 

“Over the past two days, our community experienced two horrific acts we believe were motivated by antisemitic ideology that caused him to target the Jewish community,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. “It is important, especially in one of the most diverse areas in the world, that we celebrate our differences, and stand together to oppose acts of hate.”

Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, also said in a statement, “In addition to targeting innocent people with violent physical attacks, these crimes instill fear in the community. There is no place in Los Angeles and, indeed, the United States of America, for fear to control communities and to intimidate people of faith. Law enforcement will work together to prevent hate crimes, whether they be civil liberties violations or acts of terror. On behalf of the FBI, I wish a full recovery to the victims who were senselessly attacked for their faith, as well as peace to the Jewish community.”

So, who is the gunman behind these shootings? A federal affidavit filed on February 17 identified him as Jaime Tran, 28. Tran had been homeless for the past 12-14 months and was living out of his car, a 2012 Honda Civic. Law enforcement was able to track him to the Palm Springs area thanks to cell phone location data; authorities later responded to reports of a man firing a gun in Cathedral City, where they found Tran with an AK-style rifle and a .380 caliber handgun in the front seat of his car. Tran was subsequently arrested. “It didn’t take very long,” Cathedral City Police Department Commander Jon Enos told KESQ-TV. “There was no struggle. But once we realized who he was, we secured him in a car. And then we made contact with the Los Angeles Police Department, who eventually sent over some representatives.”

Tran later claimed to have obtained the firearms from an unknown person in Arizona.

According to the affidavit, Tran admitted to law enforcement that he was the gunman and was driven by anti-Jewish animus; in fact, he used Yelp to find a kosher supermarket and chose his victims based on their “head gear.”

According to the affidavit, Tran admitted to law enforcement that he was the gunman and was driven by anti-Jewish animus; in fact, he used Yelp to find a kosher supermarket and chose his victims based on their “head gear.” Both victims wore head coverings. Tran chillingly asked law enforcement if the victims had died.  

Tran apparently has a history of antisemitism, as the affidavit cited an instance in which a former classmate of Tran’s, simply known as M.N.H., received multiple antisemitic phone calls and texts from Tran from August-November 2022. Tran had been expelled from dental school in 2018; the affidavit doesn’t indicate which school he attended, but The Los Angeles Times reported that it was UCLA Dental School. Some of the antisemitic text messages from Tran highlighted in the complaint include:

• “F—king Jew. Piece of shit Jew. F— YOU JEW. JEWBAG JEWBAGEL JEW.”

• “Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew.”

• “F—ing b—- Jew. Your mom is a slutty whore, your sister is a man, and your dad sucks dick for a living. Burn in an oven chamber you b—- Jew.”

The last text included a picture of a gas chamber, per the complaint.

Additionally, Tran sent multiple emails to former classmates toward the end of 2022 blaming COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns on “Iranian Jews” and referred to “Persian Jews” as being “primitive” and “narrow minded,” and who “scrap nickel and dimes” and “never donate to any charities.” “Going forward, I hope you all spread the word to your loved ones about the origins of COVID,” he wrote in one email. “I tagged the Iranian Jew, such as [M.N.H.], and his associates in this email so you could ask them about it. I also hope they quit putting tabs on me to the Jewish community and creeping on all of my socials.”

In another email Tran accused the “Persian/Iranian Jew of the Class of 2020” of fabricating COVID-19 and basing it on an “anesthesia incident that I had with” a couple of former classmates; it was not immediately clear what that anesthesia incident was. He also sent a picture of a flyer stating, “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE COVID AGENDA IS JEWISH.” Such flyers had been found multiple times in LA throughout the past year and are associated with the Goyim Defense League (GDL), a white supremacist group headed by Jon Minadeo II of Petaluma. Stop Antisemitism tweeted that this shows how Minadeo and the GDL “poison minds with their antisemitic flyers and cause real world violence against Jewish people.”

Other Jewish groups also condemned Tran’s reported antisemitism in statements to the Journal.

“The charging document for the shootings of two Jewish men details the actions of an individual with a deep hatred for Jews whose antisemitism motivated him to violence,” Abrams said. “It simply doesn’t get any scarier or more dangerous for the Jewish community. We are grateful that the immediate terror of this incident is behind us but recognize that antisemitism continues to take hold of our community.”

Hirschhaut said, “The Federal complaint against shooting suspect Jaime Tran reveals a litany of disturbing social pathologies, underpinned by vitriolic conspiracy theories about Jews, and Persian Jews in particular. That Tran was able to spew such hateful and threatening invective, targeting former classmates and others with impunity, begs the question of why there was no meaningful intervention before he ultimately acted upon his violent intentions.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said: “It is horrifying that once again, classic antisemitic tropes spewed by a deranged man escalated to violence against the Jews he collectively blames for COVID 19 and financial losses. Scapegoating Jews for one’s frustrations is a classic antisemitic tactic that we must, as a society, identify and reject as the bigotry it is.”

“Blaming Jews for disease and plague is a historic antisemitic trope.” – Robert J. Williams, USC Shoah Foundation

“Blaming Jews for disease and plague is a historic antisemitic trope,” Robert J. Williams, Finci-Viterbi Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, said in a statement to the Journal. “The shooter claiming Jews were responsible for COVID is just the latest version of the same lie. These events remind us why it’s so important to combat disinformation.”

After a hearing on February 17, Tran is being held without bail. He faces a lifetime maximum sentence in federal prison without parole.

Though the affidavit does not mention it, Tran does have a prior criminal record. On July 3, he was arrested for felony possession of a firearm on a school campus. The Orange County Register reported that CSU Long Beach Vice President for Administration and Finance Scott Apel sent a February 17 letter to students saying that Tran was arrested after university police received a call of a man sitting on a bench with a firearm, and police later found that the firearm in Tran’s possession was stolen. Tran is reportedly an alumnus of the university. According to the Times, Tran claimed that he was carrying the firearm as a means of self-defense. 

Siamak Kordestani, West Coast director of the European Leadership Network, noticed that county records showed that Tran was released on bond, prompting him to ask Gascon’s office in a tweet what happened to the case. He received a reply from Gascon’s office on Twitter, who wrote that “at the time of that filing he had no previous criminal record & LADA was not made aware of any allegations of threats against the Jewish community.” 

In response, Gascon’s office tweeted that Tran’s bail was set at $30,000 and he posted bond. Fox News reporter Bill Melugin noted on Twitter that the felony firearm charge that Tran faces has a three-year maximum prison sentence and that Gascon’s directives requires deputy district attorneys “to avoid seeking cash bail, and if they do, seek the lowest amount, & it must be ‘aligned with the individual’s ability to pay.’ What was the sentence for this gun case?” Gascon’s office replied that the case remains open and that Tran is scheduled to appear in court on February 28 on the matter.

“The community is still afraid and there’s also anger. And the anger, I believe, is that we know that no matter where antisemitism comes from — whether it’s from the left or the right — the victims of antisemitism are always the same, which is us Jews.” – Rabbi Noah Farkas, head of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

While the LA Jewish community may have been able to breathe a sigh of relief once Tran was arrested, some argue that anxiety remains high in the community. Rabbi Noah Farkas, who heads the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told the Journal in a phone interview that “the community is still afraid and there’s also anger. And the anger, I believe, is that we know that no matter where antisemitism comes from — whether it’s from the left or the right — the victims of antisemitism are always the same, which is us Jews. And we know that we have been sounding the alarm since last year, since Colleyville, since the Kanye West and Kyrie Irving things. For a long time now, we’ve been sounding the alarm that when you normalize hate speech, and if you have more followers on Twitter and Instagram than there are Jews in the world and you normalize this kind of hate speech, we know historically, we know sociologically, that hate speech leads to hate crime … and that’s exactly what has happened.”

Dr. Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, told the Journal that he addressed the Pinto Center on Pico Boulevard during Shabbat services on February 17 and that while congregants were “somewhat shaken” they were in “good spirit[s].” “Rabbi Pinto is a wonderful, kind and gentle spiritual authority who leads the community in a most noble way, enjoying great admiration,” Newman said. 

In general, Newman’s sense is “that many in the community are on edge now, feeling uncertain about the future, but the majority are calm.” “There is increased interest in making Aliyah,” he added. “I feel that from the many questions I get in this regard. Of course, we will welcome anyone who wishes to immigrate to Israel, but we believe that first and foremost we must guarantee the safety and security of everyone and every community.”

Security remained a priority for the community over the weekend, as police increased patrols in Jewish community areas.

Security remained a priority for the community over the weekend, as police increased patrols in Jewish community areas. Both Young Israel of Century City and Beth Jacob Congregation sent out emails to their members, both of which were obtained by the Journal, saying that they would be beefing up their security after the shootings.

“Everyone is increasing their security profiles,” Farkas said.

Evan Bernstein, who heads the Community Security Service (CSS), said in a statement to the Journal, “The Los Angeles Jewish community should be reassured that the CSS Western States office is closely monitoring and working with its trained security volunteer leadership and teams on the ground, local law enforcement, and national Jewish communal security partners, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. We stand ready to continue ensuring the utmost safety and physical security of Jewish institutions nationwide.”

“Jews shouldn’t have to be fearful of expressing their First Amendment rights that every other American can enjoy — our right to assemble and our right to pray — and this just isn’t right,” Farkas told the Journal, “and we have to keep working to make life safer and more enjoyable for Jews to live here in the city.”

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