An interview with Cherev Gidon director Yonatan Stern
JV: Since the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue massacre took place last week, can you speak about your personal perspective on self-defense and how the media attention has changed your life?
YS: Every person has the basic right to self-defense. This does not depend upon geographic location or any other circumstances. Each person has an obligation to learn how to defend themselves and their families.
The media attention generated by this tragedy has put my training school in the spotlight, and has caused many Jews to flock to my courses to get them prepared to defend themselves and their communities. I am currently overwhelmed with demand for these courses at a level which I am simply not able to supply. This is at the end of the day a very good thing, as apparently many people have woken up, but it saddens me that it has come under these terrible circumstances.
JV: In a recent Reuters report on the Cherev Gidon academy, you were quoted as saying, “The fact is, we’re at war. We want every Jew in America armed.” Did you predict that the alarming escalation of virulent anti-Semitism would reach such a toxic level as it is now and can you elaborate on how you feel we as a society we have devolved in terms of civility?
YS: I did predict this attack well before it happened as well as a general rise in violent antisemitism. To me the writing was on the wall and it was clear that we needed to be proactive and prepare for the coming storm, rather than be reactive as we see many in the Jewish community doing now. We see today violent antisemitism becoming mainstream. In the last year we have seen the Neo-Nazi marches at Charlottesville, a string of violent assaults on Hassidic Jews in NYC by Muslim and Black assailants, virulent antisemitic rallies by the far left on US campuses, and just recently, Louis Farrakhan publicly compared Jews to termites.
This kind of incitement is what Hitler used to dehumanize Jews and prepare the ground for a mass genocide. We would be foolish to ignore this climate of hate and pretend that we are still living in the America of the 50’s. In the 1930’s, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky saw the writing on the wall in Europe. He traveled across that continent warning Jewish communities of the coming danger ahead. Sadly, most of them chose to ignore him; and in the end they perished. We are now seeing similar events occurring in the United States, and we would be foolish to make the same mistake again by ignoring the clear warning signs.
JV: As a veteran officer in the Israel Defense Forces and director of the academy, can you tell our readers more about your background and what prompted you to create the Cherev Gidon Academy?
YS: I grew up in the Yishuv of Kiryat Arba, and served in the IDF during the second Intifada. My experiences there seeing and fighting terror first-hand changed me in a profound way. I began looking at things from a security standpoint, constantly assessing potential threats and how to avoid them. When I moved to the United States in 2007, I was shocked to see the lackadaisical attitude of many American Jews towards their community security coupled with a profound lack of understanding for the need for effective counter-terror measures within every Jewish institution. This obvious need led me to found Cherev Gidon Israeli Tactical Training Academy six years ago as a means to provide both the skills necessary to defend Jewish communities as well as the understanding of the importance of why we need to defend Jewish communities.
JV: In terms of firearms training and more specifically synagogue defense tactics, how are your new students being instructed in this regard and what can you advise synagogues to do to beef up their security?
YS: The courses we provide at Cherev Gidon are divided into four firearm disciplines. Pistol, rifle, tactical shotgun and uzi. Within those four disciplines there are three levels of courses; basic, intermediate and advanced. All those coming to us for training pick a discipline they wish to train in and find the level of course that fits their skill level. Right now, most of our courses are uniquely focused on armed response to active shooters in synagogues; sometimes employing a combination of firearm types and defensive methods. Our students are being instructed to the best of our ability in employing their personal firearm for the defense of the community in a worst case scenario, realizing that the armed citizen is the last line of defense between an attacker and the congregation.
One of most important issues we focus on in our courses is addressing the fact that a defensive firearm, in order to be effective needs to be carried on the person at all times, especially during prayers at Synagogue. Many people own firearms at home, and somehow think that because of this they are protected, but it is important to understand that a weapon in the home will not effect you in any way in the case of an attack on a synagogue. Antisemitic attackers will seldom target individual Jews at home, and will almost always target visible community institutions. So having a gun at home will in reality do virtually nothing to make your community safer.
What Jews need today is a license to carry a handgun. In free states such as Pennsylvania, there is really no excuse not to get your carry permit and bring your weapon to shul. Restrictive states and cities such as California, New Jersey and NYC pose a direct threat to the safety of Jewish congregations by not allowing citizens to obtain carry permits. Those residing in these areas need to realize that their continued presence there makes them sitting ducks; helpless victims who can be targeted at will by these murderous assailants. Rabbi Meir Kahane (ztz”l) wrote a book titled “uncomfortable questions for comfortable Jews”.
I am going to give a very uncomfortable answer to those very comfortable Jews who live in Brooklyn in regards to their safety. In order to be properly defend yourselves and your loved ones, you will have to relocate to an area where you can get an actual carry permit. Ideally Jews should live in states with few or no restrictions on firearms (such as Pennsylvania). But for those who wish to remain in the metro NYC area, even moving to as close by as Westchester County, Monsey or the 5 Towns will solve this problem. NYC does not issue carry permits to anyone who does not have an uncle working in City Hall, or is willing to bribe the NYPD with $15,000 cash or a gold Rolex. I hear the same responses every day from reluctant, comfortable NYC Jews who claim that they can not leave NYC because of their job, their kids school, or taking care of an elderly parent.
My answer to them is “what can be more important than your personal safety? If you are going to Chas Veshalom get shot going to shul in your comfortable neighborhood in Flatbush, what good did your cushy good job, nice house or good school do for you?”. The reality is you can find just as good a job, as good a school and in fact live a more comfortable and affordable life outside NYC than within city limits, AND you can also protect your family. So the best advise I can give to NYC Jews in terms of improving their security is to move out of NYC.
In regards to synagogues themselves: these institutions need to hire armed guards and to form armed response teams made up of armed volunteers who are congregants. The armed guards will act as the first line of defense and will stand watch outside the building guarding the entrance and checking those coming in while openly carrying firearms. These will serve mostly as a deterrent. The second line of defense will be the armed congregants within who will be carrying their weapons concealed. They will react as a team to quickly neutralize the attacker if he manages to penetrate the first line of defense by shooting the guards outside.
JV: Are you receiving any pushback from gun control activists, card carrying pacifists and other political operatives who oppose what you are doing?
YS: Liberals are always going to whine when people like us take effective initiatives to actually make positive changes within our society. They whined when trump got elected, they whined when Trump blocked Islamic terrorists from entering our nation, they whined when the embassy was moved to Jerusalem, they whined when Justice Kavanaugh was appointed, they whined that the President is sending troops to protect our border, and now they are of course whining that we are getting American Jewish civilians armed and trained in our synagogues.
I pay as much attention to these brainless liberals as I do to a fly buzzing around a room. Anyone who advocates for Jews to be disarmed while we are under violent attack by antisemites is either intentionally trying to get Jews killed, or is an ignorant fool who is probably suffering from mental illness. We can not afford to pay any attention to their idiotic and dangerous ideas, and those voices of insanity must be completely ignored.
JV: What courses at the academy are being most requested by those Jews who are now making inquiries and signing up at the academy?
YS: As mentioned earlier, the far majority of courses requested by students right now are armed response to active shooter courses. Our goal is to provide scenario-based training which will prepare Jewish civilians to respond effectively to violent attacks on their institutions, so these are of course going to be the most sought-after at this time.
JV: The popular form of Israeli self defense known as Krav Maga has piqued the interest of many in the martial arts world. In your opinion, what does this form of self defense offer the average person seeking personal security?
YS: As someone who has trained extensively in the martial art of Krav Maga, I can personally attest to the fact that it is the most effective hand-to-hand fighting system ever designed. However I want to make it clear that KM is not an effective substitute for defensive firearm training. In the case of a mass shooting at a synagogue, one would be foolish to attempt to engage an attacked armed with an assault rifle with just punches and kicks. One must realize what Krav Maga is and understand the limitations any martial arts system has. If a thug is attacking you in the street with his firsts, and you are a tall, muscular young man who is well trained in Krav Maga, you will have a clear advantage over your adversary. The same might even be true if the assailant is armed with a bat or a knife.
However you need to understand that in any incident involving firearms, KM is not an effective means of self defense, and thinking that somehow you will be able to disarm and neutralize an armed attacker using martial arts moves is frankly delusional. The same goes for any situation where the person trained in Krav Maga is of small stature, weak, elderly, disabled, or injured. Women are also naturally smaller and physically weaker than men; and despite modern notions of political correctness, this difference in physical ability can not be overlooked. To make a long story short, an 85 year old woman who is well trained in Krav Maga will stand no chance against a 6 ft tall, 200 lb, 25 year old man who is not trained in Krav Maga. However that same elderly woman will be able to easily neutralize an attack by the young man with a well placed shot from a concealed handgun. The point is that Krav Maga is a good skill to have, but don’t ever look at it as a replacement for a firearm which is the only thing you can rely on to defeat an armed attacker.
JV: In terms of protecting Jewish schools from armed assault, do you suggest an increased in armed guards or instructing administrators on how to use weapons? What is the general view of this from parents that you speak with?
YS: In terms of protecting Jewish schools, there is no question that the most effective means of defending the institution is having armed and trained teachers, administrators and staff who will be the first responders in any case of a violent incident on campus. Of course armed guards are also necessary, but just like in the case of synagogues, this is more as a deterrent rather than as an effective means of stopping the threat. Jewish schools need to immediately begin arming and training their staff to respond to active shooter situations. Remember, as we have learned from Columbine, Sandy Hook, VA Tech, Parkland, etc, etc, etc; “gun free zones” promote massacres. We cannot afford to endanger our children by sending them to schools where the staff is unarmed.
JV: Among those who have expressed a strong interest in taking the courses that the academy offers, are you finding that rabbinical leaders are in favor of it, opposed to it or are in conflict about their congregants being armed?
YS: I am seeing a tremendous surge in interest from Orthodox Rabbis and community leaders in terms of getting their communities armed and trained. The largest share of this interest is coming from Religious-Zionist and Chabad communities, but also from traditional Haredi communities including Chassidic groups and Lithuanian Haredim. Interestingly enough, I am also seeing an increase in interest from Conservative synagogues and institutions affiliated with the Conservative movement. So far I have seen zero interest from anyone affiliated with the Reform movement (which does not surprise me considering their far-left political bent).
JV: For those who are interested in learning more about the Cherev Gidon Academy or signing up for courses, how can they contact you?
YS: Anyone interested in booking a course can visit our website at www.cherevgidon.com. We provide a variety of courses to fit all needs and accommodate all skill levels. You do not need to own your own firearms, have any prior experience, or have a gun license to take our courses. We are based in Wayne County, PA, only 90 miles outside New York City, and just minutes from the Catskills. Courses are offered in this location from May through November, and during the winter months we provide courses in Arizona and Florida.
By: Fern Sidman
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