The miracle at Chabad of Poway

Even in the midst of tragedy and terror, sometimes there’s a moment where the light – possibly even divine light – shines through. According to one of the rabbis at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, that’s what happened when he came face to face with the shooter who was gunning down people celebrating Passover this weekend. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was preparing for services when the shooter arrived and took aim at him. Goldstein was struck once, losing a finger in the process, but then something he describes as literally miraculous happened. (Associated Press, emphasis added)

Goldstein said he was preparing for a service on the last day of Passover, a holiday celebrating freedom, and heard a loud sound. He turned around, and a saw a young man wearing sunglasses standing in front of him with a rifle.

“I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul,” Goldstein said. He raised his hands and lost one of his fingers in the shooting.

And then, Goldstein said, “miraculously the gun jammed.”

The shooter had struck four people, including Rabbi Goldstein, killing one. His first shot at the rabbi went high and wide, taking off Goldstein’s finger because he had raised his hands over his head. But he could easily have lowered his aim for a shot at the center of body mass and was attempting to do so. And then his rifle jammed. That bought enough time for the rest of the event to unfold as we heard and very likely kept Rabbi Goldstein alive.

So was it a miracle? Rifles definitely do jam from time to time and the AR-15 models are no exception. But if it’s a well-built model like the Bushmaster, it’s pretty rare. Jams in semiautomatic mode can happen, but such incidents are frequently attributed to cheap, steel casing rounds produced in eastern Europe. Poor quality magazines or insufficient maintenance and cleaning leading to a buildup of dust or grime are also sometimes to blame.

But still, overall the rate of jamming on most American AR-15s is pretty low. And the shooter hadn’t even made it through a full magazine yet, based on the descriptions of witnesses. So it’s not impossible, but it’s improbable. Was that a case of divine intervention? Or was the miracle the fact that there was a combat veteran in the synagogue who reacted quickly, grabbed his weapon and “scared the hell out of” the shooter?

Either way, Rabbi Goldstein was a man who had already taken one bullet and was staring down the barrel of a rifle pointed right at his chest. And then something happened. Sounds close enough to a miracle for me.