Flowers and a note left behind to honor the victims of the mass shooting at Mac Dutra Park in Half Moon Bay, Jan. 24, 2023. (Photo/Twitter @CAgovernor)
Flowers and a note left behind to honor the victims of the mass shooting at Mac Dutra Park in Half Moon Bay, Jan. 24, 2023. (Photo/Twitter @CAgovernor)

Half Moon Bay rabbi after shooting: ‘Judaism calls upon us to take a leap of action’

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn of Half Moon Bay has been thinking about a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the famous civil rights rabbi.

Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn
Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn

“He said, ‘Judaism calls upon us to take a leap of action,’” said the leader of Coastside Jewish Community, which supports  cultural and spiritual Jewish life in the area. “I think we all know ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough.”

Half Moon Bay is reeling from the shock of the mass shooting that happened on Jan. 23, when a man killed seven people.

The suspect, Chunli Zhao, 66, appeared in court today to be formally charged with murder. He allegedly used a legally purchased semiautomatic handgun to shoot five at California Terra Gardens mushroom farm on Highway 92 (one survived), then drove to a nearby farm on Highway 1 and killed three more people.

Half Moon Bay is a small community of just over 11,000 where the commercial corridor is called Main Street. The violent acts happened in the farming community, an integral part of the local economy and one that was already under pressure from the flooding caused by January’s torrential rains.

People have been grieving, “sad and angry,” said Heyn, who has been checking in with his congregants by phone.

“Quite a few are really motivated to get active, or get more active” to stop gun violence, he added. “This last mass shooting should be the last. It probably won’t be, but it should be.”

I think we all know ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough.

For Rae Abileah, the fact that the shootings didn’t directly impact the Jewish community doesn’t matter.

“These are our neighbors, these are people in the community,” she said. “We need to decrease the divide.”

Born and raised in the area, Abileah is a kohenet, a feminist Jewish spiritual leader, and feels that Jewish tradition offers tools for handling the grief and shock that results from horrific acts. She also thinks it is incumbent on Jews to reach out with concrete help and to support the low-income farming families, often immigrants, who are most directly affected.

“The ways we have been oppressed have taught us to walk with those who are most oppressed,” she said.

It was in that vein that Heyn came together with other faith leaders last night to host an interfaith gathering that included Buddhist and Christian denominational leaders. Aryae Coopersmith attended with his wife, Wendy Berk.

“It felt good for people from different faiths to be sitting together,” said Coopersmith. The event was held in a Lutheran church.

He said the shooting had been a “shock” to a town that he described as “a very quiet, half suburban, half rural, half beach community,” but that Judaism was a foundation that supported him.

“There’s a lot in our traditions we can turn to in moments of grief,” he said.

And while the road to abolishing gun violence is both long and hard, Abileah agrees that action is the way forward.

“Our Jewish tenet of ‘justice, justice you shall pursue’ — ‘tzedek, tzedek tirdof’ — it’s incumbent on us to get active on this issue,” she said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.