Hours before Rabbi Steven Chester was to speak at a March 24 vigil near the East Oakland intersection where two police officers were gunned down days earlier, he stopped at Longs Drugs on Pleasant Valley Road for some Ziploc bags.
He walked into the store as someone yelled, pleading, “Put down the gun!”
Chester quickly ducked under the turnstile and out the door to escape the holdup.
Police cars descended onto the scene and went inside. Two young men emerged in handcuffs. A police officer carried their large handgun that earlier in the day allegedly was used to rob students before school began at Oakland Technical High School.
“It was frightening,” said Chester, rabbi at Oakland’s Temple Sinai. “Again, it shows that this can happen to anyone at any time, and we’re all in precarious situations.”
So it was ironic that later that day, March 24, Chester spoke at a vigil in honor of four Oakland policemen killed on duty March 21.
Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege were shot and killed March 21 after they pulled over Lovelle Mixon, a wanted parolee, near 74th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland.
Two hours later, when police entered the apartment where Mixon was hiding, he shot and killed Sgts. Erv Romans and Daniel Sakai before three other officers shot and killed Mixon.
At the vigil Chester attended, a thousand people gathered in a three-block area around the slaying site, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Oakland’s Jewish community also launched fundraising efforts in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Three Oakland congregations are reaching out to the victims’ families and to thank police for their courage and protection.
Temple Sinai this week sent an e-mail to congregants encouraging them to donate money directly to the trust funds set up for children of the slain officers.
A week ago, Temple Beth Abraham, located just 7.5 miles west of the shootings, announced it would be collecting donations for the children of the slain officers.
“The Torah and Prophets tell us repeatedly of our obligation to protect and support widows and orphans — it is one of the highest mitzvoth. Here is our chance,” wrote Bryan Schwartz, Beth Abraham’s social action chair and coordinator of the donation collection, in an e-mail to the congregation.
The synagogue raised $4,200 in one week. Donations came from 73 families and ranged from $18 to $180 — but they didn’t just come from Beth Abraham. When members of Oakland’s Congregation Beth Jacob heard about the efforts, several of them also sent money to Schwartz.
“Officers are literally risking their lives in our community to protect us,” said Schwartz, a civil rights attorney and Oakland resident. “If we’re going to ask them to do that, to show that kind of courage, the least we can do is to show our tangible support for their families.”
Chester attended the vigil to similarly express his gratitude for the police department, he said.
At the vigil, the rabbi talked about the shofar as a metaphor for the need to come together in the aftermath of community tragedy.
“The shofar, in ancient times, called people together, and that Tuesday we came together as a community to help one another heal,” he said. He explained that the shofar’s sounds symbolize unity, brokenness, mourning and hope.
He then blew the shofar four times: tekiyah, teruah, shvarim and tekiyah gedolah.
“We must do something to control gun violence,” he told the crowd.
On March 27, three days after the East Oakland vigil, an overflow crowd gathered in Oracle Arena for the police officers’ funeral.
Akiva Tor, consul general of Israel, and his deputy security officer attended the event.
“We were there to show solidarity with the people of Oakland and with the police of Oakland,” Tor said. “It felt familiar in a strange way, in the same way we have sometimes horrific terror attacks in Israel, which cause the general public to come together in grief and in determination.”
This week, Tor will arrange for a donation to be sent to the slain officers’ families on behalf of the state of Israel.
To donate directly to the slain officers’ families or other designated charities, go to www.opoa.org/trustfunds.htm.