(February 23, 2023 / JNS) The London-based Jewish Chronicle recently reported that the Iranian government is “mapping” Jewish leaders worldwide with plans to assassinate them if Israel attacked the Islamic Republic. Antisemitism has for more than two years now been on the rise both stateside and globally. So what are Jews who want, and at times need, to protect themselves and their family to do?
One answer has come in the form of individual self-protection. Jewish owners of gun clubs encourage fellow tribe members to learn their way around a weapon and arm themselves.
Tzvi Waldman of Rockland County, N.Y., founded the NYS Jewish Gun Club, which promotes responsible Jewish gun ownership to its roughly 300 members. He said the club’s experienced gun owners help new members become proficient with guns, Waldman.
“There has been an increase in gun ownership among the Chassidic community, especially in the past few years,” noted Waldman.
“Jewish people need to be vigilant, whether it is against a jihadist or a lunatic hopped up on drugs,” he said. “This underscores the need for every congregation to have a trained professional. Whether it is just for a hobby or self-defense, what we try to do is promote responsible and legal gun ownership among the Jewish people.”
The news about Iran’s Jewish hit list shows how desperate the country is, according to Waldman. “Threats against Jews in this country are nothing new, and this is just a different type of threat,” he said. “We will overcome this as well.”
‘We are not afraid to respond’
Mike Miller, founder of the Austin-based Central Texas Jewish Rifle and Pistol Club, told JNS that reports of the Iranian plot do not surprise him. “Iran is a big enemy of Israel,” he said.
“Jewish people need to be trained to be proficient in gun laws and on the shooting range,” he continued. “When the police are called, it is often too late.”
Miller’s club, which has no membership fees and an email list of 125, meets at a local shooting range every other month in coordination with the community center Shalom Austin JCC. Members connect with trained firearm professionals, many of whom are U.S. Jewish veterans.
And the Texas capital is also home to the fastest-growing Israeli American community in the country, many of whom served in the Israel Defense Forces.
“They understand more than anyone else the threats we as Jews face,” Miller said of the Israeli club members. “Jewish people need to rethink this pacifistic attitude that we have inherited from Europe. It is not helpful. We should let our enemies know we are not afraid to respond.”
‘Familiarity with a firearm’
Dr. Fred Kogen, a physician, mohel and founder of the California-based Bullets and Bagels shooting club, sees things differently. Every Jew need not carry a firearm, Kogen told JNS. But he wants to remove the stigma from those who decide to do so legally.
“I would like every Jewish person to have a passing familiarity with a firearm,” he said.
Ironically, the mohel of 35 years who is an expert in circumcision cut his thumb accidentally slicing bagels during his club’s first meeting. “Which is pretty bad to admit when you’re a mohel,” he quipped.
Still, members got their bagels and lox that day, and the club has grown to about 160 members who meet every Sunday at a local shooting range. It has also branched out to Los Angeles, Orange County and San Bernardino.
Kogen reserved judgment about the reported Iranian plot. “This rise in antisemitism we are seeing is disturbing,” he said. “There is a large percentage of non-observant Jews who have never even touched a firearm, while Orthodox Jews are more of a target due to how visibly Jewish they are.”
“From my perspective,” he said, “Jewish people who show interest in firearms are ostracized, and I would like to change that.”
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