WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
The elderly Jewish man who died in a clash with a pro-Palestinian protester was mourned this week as a “symbol” of strength amid growing anti-Semitic hatred.
Paul Kessler was defending his long-held belief that Jews have the right to live and prosper without harassment or fear on a corner of suburban Los Angeles that fateful Sunday when he fell to the ground and hit his head , according to his longtime rabbi.
“Like most Jews, he loved Israel and believed that Jews should be allowed to live in Israel,” Rabbi Ari Averbach of the Thousand Oaks Temple Etz Chaim told the Los Angeles Times as questions about his death remained.
The 69-year-old father of two showed up at the pro-Israel counter-demonstration with an Israeli flag in his hand after a neighbor asked him to stand in front of a pro-Palestinian demonstration that was taking place. was gathered at a nearby intersection.
Investigators said Kessler got into an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester when he fell, but witnesses say the unidentified individual “stalked” the elderly man before hitting him in the head with a microphone .
He died at an area hospital hours later, with investigators ruling it a homicide due to blunt head trauma consistent with a fall — although the medical determination did not indicate a crime was committed.
Kessler also suffered injuries that “may be consistent” with a blow to the face, but it’s unclear what caused his fall, the Ventura County medical examiner said.
His death – and the lack of resolution in the case – have only intensified concerns among members of the local Jewish community that Kessler was attacked because of his support for Israel.
“He became a symbol of something bigger — that wasn’t his intention,” Averbach said. “He wasn’t looking for trouble.”
Despite growing fear, some religious leaders are warning their members not to rush to judgment and instead trust local law enforcement.
Averbach said he did not want the Jewish people to retaliate and only worsen the growing division resulting from the Israel-Hamas crisis.
“The world is watching this moment – what was just a small interaction with neighbors is now a global crisis,” he told the outlet. “I hope this doesn’t continue or get worse.” … I hope that anyone who attends any gathering can feel safe.
“Our community is really shaken right now,” he added. “We’re trying to figure out how to continue to live here…Standing with us and crying with us, it reminded me that this place can – or should – be a safe place.” »
The synagogue held a small, private vigil in Kessler’s memory Wednesday, as community members lined the street corner where he suffered his fatal fall with flowers and candles.
“I didn’t want people to think this guy didn’t matter,” a member of the local synagogue, who requested anonymity, told the outlet.
Another resident said Kessler’s death brings the war — which has claimed the lives of about 1,300 Israelis and more than 11,000 Palestinians — closer to home.
“When the missiles and bombs hit Israel and Gaza, you feel it to a certain extent, but you really feel it when we are three kilometers away and someone – whether it was an accident or whether it was pushed or hit, we don’t know. “I don’t know, but it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for this conflict,” said Chuck Conway, who lives near the suburban town where Kessler fell.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday it was “working around the clock to pursue leads, review electronic data and corroborate witness statements.”
Investigators have requested video and photographic evidence of the incident, particularly if it shows the alleged assault, adding that many witness statements are contradictory.
“There are photos and videos before and after the incident,” the statement said.
“Currently, we do not have any footage of the actual incident that occurred, which would be extremely helpful in this case and would undoubtedly help show or even disprove criminal culpability.”