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Healing after Jewish Center tragedy

Local residents gather to remember North Valley shooting

Posted: August 10, 2009 9:12 p.m.
Updated: August 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia resident Marvin Thau has a moment of silence as he and other local Jewish residents remember the North Valley Community Center shooting, which occurred 10 years ago Monday morning, at the future site of the Southern California Center for Jewish Life.

 
The strains of "Mi Shebayrakh," a Jewish prayer of healing, rose on the morning air. Gentle hillsides and surrounding trees provided a serene setting for the Monday event commemorating a violent chapter in Jewish history in Southern California.

As Rabbi Mark Blazer and guitarist Wendy Hersh led the song, some of those in attendance joined calmly; others wiped tears from their eyes.

The site off The Old Road in Newhall that will one day become the Southern California Center for Jewish Life provided the setting for the remembrance of Aug. 10, 1999.

On that day, white supremacist Buford O. Furrow opened fire at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, wounding three boys, a teenage girl and a woman.

Hours later, Furrow shot and killed letter carrier Joseph Ileto.

"When the shooting happened roughly 10 minutes to 11 (a.m.), for many people their lives changed in that instant," Blazer said as he opened the "Remember, renew and recommit" program at 10 a.m. Monday. Blazer was at the hospital when paramedics began bringing in the victims.

Rea Nagel was teaching an adult watercolor painting class at the time she heard the shots. She remembers walking out of her classroom and seeing the gunman's profile as he was firing. After Nagel realized the shooting was real, she rushed to aid 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish.

"I saw Ben in the hallway and he was bleeding and there was blood all over," said Nagel, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. "I applied pressure on his wound and on the back."

Nagel held Ben's hand until paramedics took control. Since the shooting, Nagel has begun working for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

For Josh Frazin, pleasant memories of the Jewish songs sung and lessons he learned as a preschooler at North Valley Jewish Community Center are convoluted by tragic memories created Aug. 10, 1999, when his own 4-year-old daughter was in her preschool class.

Frazin, whose father is past president of the Jewish center, was traveling down Rinaldi Street when he saw helicopters flying in the area.
When he arrived at the center, Frazin said, "no one could tell me if my little girl was alive or dead."

"In that moment, when you find out your child could be dead or alive, there's an inability to parent," he said.

While the tragedies of the Jewish people are well documented, Frazin said, "this is the first time I was personally exposed to violent anti-Semitic acts."

Ten years later, Frazin, who now lives in Valencia, said he still feels a sense of relief when his daughter gets home from school.

Soon after the shooting, Frazin's wife marched with the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., to advocate common-sense gun legislation.

But gun or no gun, Furrow's actions constitute a hate crime, Frazin said.

"One man's hatred is our failure to educate him in the way of tolerance," Frazin said.

The service marked a time of remembrance but also a time of renewal, as members of the Jewish community sang prayers of healing and recited traditional Jewish blessings in unison.

The group joined together in reciting the "Kaddish" in remembrance of the victim who did not survive that day, Joseph Ileto. They also recited for Pam Waechter, killed in the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting.

Blazer read a letter from Todd Carb, a Santa Clarita resident and paramedic who transported Benjamin Kadish to the hospital.

"As a society, we must stay vigilant to those whose intolerances have the potential to boil over into violence. While not becoming paranoid, or fearful, we must also not be lulled into a false sense of security," said Blazer as he read from Carb's letter.

Although the North Valley center closed about seven years ago due to lack of financial support, Temple Beth Ami continues with its plans to build its future home and site of the Southern California Center for Jewish Life on The Old Road in Newhall.

"Leave your good prayers and your good thoughts," said Blazer as he encouraged the group to walk around the site before leaving the service. The center is expected to be complete in 2011.

Hersh, a Temple Beth Ami member, led the group in the closing song, "Oseh Shalom," which means "make peace."

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