“It’s a miracle that I’m alive and talking to you,” Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein tells Chabad.org from his hospital room, where he was recovering from the gunshot wounds he suffered during the terrorist attack at Chabad of Poway on the morning of April 27. “The shooter was 15 feet away from me.”

About 50 congregants filled the benches at Chabad of Poway, observing the final day of Passover, which includes the Yizkor prayer commemorating loved ones. Goldstein, who is the senior rabbi at Chabad of Poway, had stepped out of the sanctuary to prepare for the haftorah. In the lobby, he saw Lori Gilbert-Kaye. “What time is Yizkor?” she asked the rabbi. Kaye was looking forward to reciting the prayer in memory of her late mother. Her daughter Hannah, a UCLA student, had flown to Poway to be with her mom during the poignant, often emotional service. Goldstein told her that it was called for 11:30 a.m., just a few minutes away, and wished her a happy Passover. Then he turned to wash his hands.

A sudden, loud bang startled him. When he turned back around, Kaye was prostrate on the lobby floor, and the terrorist’s rifle was pointed right at him. “I locked eyes with him. He was at the door to the sanctuary,” said Goldstein. “That’s when he fired, blowing off my right index finger and severely injuring my left index finger.”

Grabbing a towel to stanch the flow of blood, Goldstein ran towards a group of children standing nearby. He was joined by a guest named Almog Peretz, a former Israeli soldier who was visiting family from his home in Sderot, Israel, where he is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Disregarding the danger to their own lives, they whisked the children to safety. The gunman fired again and again, at some point striking Peretz in the leg and injuring Peretz’s niece, 8-year-old Noya Dahan, who took fragments to the leg and near her eye.

As congregants ran for their lives, two ran in the opposite direction — directly towards the shooter. Oscar Stewart, a longtime congregant and U.S. military veteran, charged the terrorist. At that time, the shooter’s weapon jammed, and he turned tail and fled the building. A moment later, Jonathan Morales, an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent, fired four rounds, striking the gunman’s vehicle.

Morales recently discovered that he was Jewish, and began his journey back to his roots under the tutelage of Rabbi Goldstein, even attending this year’s International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in New York. He had made the two-hour trip from his home in El Centro, Calif., to join the Passover services at Chabad. Now, his heroic actions—and those of Goldstein, Peretz, Stewart and others—helped save countless lives. “This could have been a bloodbath,” said Goldstein. “I hope our actions helped prevent a worse loss of life.”

“Once I knew the shooter was away, I ran back to the lobby,” Goldstein continues. He beheld a grisly sight. Lori Kaye was unresponsive, and her husband, a doctor, had fainted from shock and was slumped beside her. Their daughter hovered over them, overcome with grief. “It felt like forever before the paramedics arrived. They had to wait for the police to give them the all-clear before entering the building.”

The Teachings and Example of the Rebbe

As police and paramedics evacuated the congregants and triaged the injured, Goldstein thought of the teachings and example of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—in the face of terror, and got up on a chair outside the sanctuary to address his congregation, beginning with the traditional Priestly Blessing: “May G‑d bless you and guard you. May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you. May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”

As his hands bled profusely, a shaken Goldstein continued instinctively, resolutely relaying some of what he had learned from the Rebbe. “In the face of darkness and evil, we must not back down but redouble our efforts,” he said. Quoting a passage from the Passover Seder liturgy, “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand,” Goldstein spoke of the unity and perseverance of the Jewish people, and finished with a resounding, “Am Yisrael Chai! Nothing will take us down! This is what the Rebbe taught us, this is what we live with. We are going to stand tall, we are going to stand proud of who we are, of our heritage ... and we’re going to get through this.”

“The paramedics wanted to take me to the hospital,” Goldstein relates, but he refused. “Not until everyone is accounted for.” Two children who were missing were soon found. They had run to a neighbor’s house. Satisfied his flock was cared for, Goldstein at last got into the ambulance.

Doctors couldn’t save his right index finger, which had to be amputated. Surgeons spent four hours attempting to save his left index finger, which was also badly injured. All three injured have been released from the hospital, but Goldstein’s road to recovery will be longer. “This will leave emotional and physical scars forever,” he says. “When I look at my fingers, it will remind me of how vulnerable we are, and also how heroic we must be.”

As the injured recover, the community mourns the loss of Lori Kaye, whose funeral is scheduled for Monday. Kaye had been a congregant at Chabad of Poway for 25 years. She would bring gifts of challah and flowers to people going through a rough time. When a community member was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was Kaye who volunteered to drive her to all of her appointments. “She was all about chesed—kindness towards others,” said Goldstein. “She was an activist; a doer. It’s a catastrophe beyond description.”

Despite the heinous attack on his synagogue and on his person, Goldstein’s message is one of hope. “We Jews are happy to be living In the United States, where our freedom to practice our religion is protected. We cannot and will not let terror win. My life was spared for a reason: so that I can continue my 35 years of outreach to Jews in Poway. The Rebbe taught that in the face of darkness and evil we must continue reaching out and inspiring people. Let’s get everyone to synagogue this Shabbat. Let’s show them this will not deter us one step.”

The funeral of Lori Gilbert-Kaye will take place on Monday, April 29. Chapel Service at Chabad of Poway, 16934 Chabad Way, Poway, CA 92064. Levaya-funeral service at El Camino Memorial, 5600 Carrol Canyon Road in San Diego.

Many have asked how they can contribute to help the victims and their families and assist Chabad of Poway get back on their feet. Contributions can be made here: www.chabadpoway.com/standwithpoway.