I went to the synagogue yesterday morning. It was my first time there in over a month. Between our family’s long trip to Texas and then all of us getting slammed with COVID, I hadn’t been able to go to a service on Shabbat. There was a tiny congregation gathered in the sanctuary. The shul community is small to begin with, and the attendance was remarkably lean yesterday. There was no possibility of rounding up a minyan, so there was no Torah reading, just the recitation of the prayers that could be said without ten male Jews.
I got to the shul late. My wife, Karin, had slept in, so I had been watching our grandson, Asher, all morning. He’s going to be three years old a month from now, and he’s a handful. Once Karin was awake and ready to take over with the little boy, I left home to go to Shacharit.
When I got there, a rabbi was trying to explain what to do when Jews are being held hostage. I only caught the last portion of his presentation. The rabbi was wrestling with passages from the Talmud and the Midrash to come up with ideas as to what can or should be done by the Israelis with the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. He wasn’t really giving a sermon. It was more of an interactive discussion with members of the community. The gist of the conversation was that the classic Jewish texts can’t serve as an exact template for the current situation in Gaza. The centuries-old opinions are sadly still relevant to the fate of the Israeli hostages, but they don’t provide clear guidance.
The events in the Gaza war overshadowed everything at the synagogue. Nothing else really mattered. Everybody’s minds were focused on the fighting in Gaza and the political spillover here in the United States. At every Shabbat prayer service in the synagogue there is a special prayer for wellbeing of the soldiers of the United States and for that of the soldiers in the IDF. Yesterday, another prayer was added for the safety of the hostages. It was rather poignant. Some prayers are simply recited out of habit. These prayers came from the heart.
I sat in the back row with a friend of mine. He’s an old man, old enough to be my father. The man grew up in Stalinist Russia and immigrated to America with his family after the fall of the Soviet Union. Both he and I have sons who went to war. His boy recently died from alcoholism. The man is in remarkably good shape for a guy who is pushing ninety. He asked me right away about our grandson.
He grasped my hand and asked in a heavy Slavic accent, “How is the beautiful little boy?”
“He’s feisty. Very willful.”
The old man smiled, “You must bring him to us, so we can see how he has grown.”
I sighed, “Yeah, I will. Not today.”
He nodded, “Not today, but soon? When you have time. You call us before you come.”
I agreed to do that.
The president of the synagogue gave a what she thought would be a short presentation on a security meeting she had attended with members of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She handed everyone a copy of the meeting’s minutes. That type of document is usually bloodless and boring. This one was not. After her initial comments, the room erupted with questions.
My friend grabbed my right arm and pulled me close to him. He asked me quietly, “You will help to buy a Gyock?”
“Yes, yes, a Gyock. you know, a pistol.”
“Oh, a Glock?”
“Yes, you can help me to get one?”
I was initially stunned by that request. Here we were in a house of prayer and study, and I was talking with a close friend about buying a handgun.
The synagogue president fielding a number of questions concerning the security of the shul (we have had an armed guard at the door for months already). She also answered questions about potential threats from ne0-nazis and from Hamas supporters. There were questions about staging counter demonstrations in support of Israel. The president told us how to report an antisemitic incident. Oddly enough, I already know how to do that. Last December, some Jew-haters threw antisemitic propaganda in my driveway. I was upset about that.
My friend talked to me about his worries. He grew up surrounded by antisemitism. Its effects are in his history, and they are in his blood. He hears the alarms in his head.
My friend stood up and loudly asked, “And what are the FBI and the local police doing to protect us? Where are they? The people need protection! They have to protect themselves! Nobody else will protect them!”
Another congregant, an immigrant from Russian, asked my friend, “How long have you been in this country? Thirty, forty years? And you still don’t own a gun?”
My friend told him that he planned to get one.
The Russian told my friend, “You can’t just buy a gun. You need to go to the shooting range and practice. You need to know the laws for guns in Wisconsin. Some of them are very interesting.”
The discussion went on for a while. I sat back and listened. I thought to myself, “Holy fuck. This is nuts. But it is real. This is happening.”
When the service was done, I told my friend, “I will drive you to the gun shop, but I can’t buy it for you.”
He nodded and said, “Yes, of course, I know. I will buy the Gyock. You just take me there.”
Then he said, “Maybe you buy one too. You have to protect your little boy.”
That’s true. I do need to protect Asher, but maybe not with a handgun in the house.
Later that day, I got a call from my son, Hans, the combat vet and gun enthusiast. I told Hans about my friend’s strong desire to buy a Glock. Hans suggested that he buy a Canik TP9SFx instead. A Canik is a Turkish firearm, similar to a Glock but less expensive. Hans also strongly suggested that my friend take a concealed carry class. Hans had been to one, and they taught him all about the pertinent state laws. They also made damn sure that Hans knew how to handle his weapon. That sounded like a great idea to me.
I will talk with my friend about the gun soon. He might change his mind about buying a firearm, although knowing his stubbornness, he will probably still want to get one. At least, I can guide him in a way to be safe about owning one. If we have to do this, we might as well do it right.
It just amazes me that we are doing this at all.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.