March 31, 2020

San Bernardino was home to 100-year-old Jewish congregation [UPDATED]

Update: Dec. 4, 11:12 a.m.: In a phone interview on Thursday, Congregation Emanu El Rabbi Jay Sherwood said his Redlands-based congregation is determining ways of helping those affected by the mass shooting on Wednesday.

“At the moment we are waiting to hear what needs there are. Various city and state organizations are involved in that. We're waiting to see what help we might be able to offer. At the moment, we don't know,” he said.

Among those most deeply identified with San Bernardino, the city currently reeling from a deadly mass shooting that left 14 dead on Wednesday at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center, is Rabbi Hillel Cohn, 77, currently rabbi emeritus of Congregation Emanu El. The synagogue operated in San Bernardino for more than 100 years before it relocated to nearby Redlands several years ago.

Cohn served as the synagogue’s leader for nearly four decades, and he said on Thursday that he is concerned with how the shooting, which also left at least 17 wounded, will impact the already-challenged San Bernardino.

“San Bernardino is a workingman’s town. The city itself has been going through some very difficult times over the last 20 years in particular, with the closing of our Norton Air Force Base… I have been very much involved, kind of a prime player in the hope of resurrecting [the area]… nobody needed this,” Cohn said in a phone interview.

For Jewish leaders like Cohn in the San Bernardino area, Wednesday’s tragedy also serves as a reminder of the historical ties the Jewish community has to the region.

San Bernardino, he said, is “the oldest Jewish community in Southern California, the first place Jews came to when they came to Southern California. Our congregation was the only congregation between Pasadena and Phoenix [Ariz.] until the 1930s,” Cohn said.

Among the signs of Jewish life, San Bernardino is home to the Norman F. Feldheym Central Library, named for a rabbi in the San Bernardino area.

Cohn served at Emanu El from 1963-2001 and was Feldheym’s successor.

There are no longer any synagogues in San Bernardino, a largely immigrant community. Emanu El’ new home in Redlands is less than 10 miles from Inland Regional Center, and Congregative Etz Hadar, a small, lay-led Conservative congregation located approximately seven miles from the Inland Regional Center, also serves the region.

The attack also drew response from Emanu El’s current leader, Rabbi Jay Sherwood, who issued a statement Thursday aiming to reassure the synagogue’s 225 member family units that the shooting had not directly impacted anyone in the synagogue community.

“There are members of our community who have friends and acquaintances who work at Inland Regional Center, and all of those people are safe and accounted for,” Sherwood said. “There will be at least one community prayer vigil in the near future,” he added.

Cohn told the Journal a vigil will take place Thursday evening. He said he plans to attend. KTLA is also reporting a vigil will be held tonight at 6 p.m. at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino County.  

Wounded victims are receiving treatment at Loma Linda University Medical Center, which is affiliated with Loma Linda University, as of press time.

“It was a very chaotic day,” Steve Yellon, president of Congregative Etz Hadar and a professor at Loma Linda University, said on Thursday during a phone interview. “[Now] we’re in the aftermath of the situation.”

The incident involved two armed and now-deceased individuals, husband-and-wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. They have been identified as Muslim.

In response to the shooting, The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a statement Thursday, entitled, “Searching for Motives in the San Bernardino Shooting.”

“Future evi­dence will be nec­es­sary to under­stand whether or not extrem­ism, or extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda may have played any role in the San Bernardino shoot­ings,” according to the ADL statement.

Meanwhile, criminal prosecutor and current L.A. County Supervisor candidate Elan Carr and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer also responded. The latter said in a statement: “My heart is broken after this rampage that led to tragic loss of life, so many injuries, so much trauma and pain for the people of San Bernardino.”

Cohn, for his part, emphasized his concern for the future of San Bernardino.

“Every time we do try to move forward something external happens that takes us back it, shoots us back,” he said, “but at any rate we are moving forward and we have some hopeful signs.”