Back in Brooklyn, gunman is remembered as quiet, religious MASSACRE IN HEBRON

February 26, 1994|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,New York Bureau of The Sun

NEW YORK -- Along Brooklyn's Avenue J, boys spilled out of the yeshivas. Some headed home to help prepare for Purim, others to after-school activities at Young Israel.

Mothers and daughters nipped into the Jerusalem Bakery for last-minute shopping. Teen-age girls went door to door along the tree-lined streets, asking neighbors for donations to help the poor.

This was the neighborhood that Baruch Goldstein left about 11 years ago for Israel, where he made his mark in the bloody history of that place yesterday.

Like the Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, many in Brooklyn's Jewish communities feel besieged. Here the problem is a fear that the modest prosperity they have is threatened by rising crime, a weak economy and immigration. There are calls to expel intruders and to be more aggressive.

It's not surprising that Goldstein hailed from southeastern Brooklyn, Brooklyn College Professor Jerry Krase said.

"He was defending his people. I don't agree with what he did, but they drove him to it," said Chaim Weiss, 17, a student at the Yeshiva of Brooklyn.

Few locals remember much of Goldstein. But some said he hardly seemed the stereotypical masked gunman. A devoted husband and committed doctor, he was known as a quiet, friendly person.

"Baruch Goldstein was a model citizen. No one would picture him firing a gun into a crowd," said Mike Guzofsky, co-head of Kahane Chai organization in New York. But Kahane Chai issued a statement praising Goldstein as a "Samson in his time" who "sanctified God's name."

Kahane Chai, or "Kahane Lives," was formed in memory of ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, the Brooklyn-born Israeli politician who favored the deportation of 2 million Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Arab countries. Kahane was assassinated while speaking at a New York hotel in 1990.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s, Goldstein was drawn to Kahane, according to friends and acquaintances. Kahane organized vigilante patrols of Brooklyn neighborhoods, challenged the Black Panthers, and eventually founded the Jewish Defense League.

After graduating from New York's Yeshiva University with honors in 1977, Goldstein attended the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and joined the JDL.

Like many followers of Kahane, Goldstein left the United States and settled in Kiryat Arba, the militant settlers' community next to Hebron. But unlike many of Kahane's followers, Goldstein was not the "ne'er-do-well" who finds economic opportunity in the occupied territories, Dr. Krase said.

"Most of the emigrants are not doctors. They're lower-middle-class people who have nothing better in the United States," Dr. Krase said.

"He just became devoted to Rabbi Kahane. It's that simple," said Mr. Guzofsky of Kahane Chai.

After moving to Israel in 1983, Goldstein represented the Kach movement, the successor to Kahane's party, on the local council.

Israelis in Kiryat Arba who knew him said he was often called upon to treat victims of the frequent clashes in the settlement between Jews and Arabs. They suggested this duty may have propelled him to his tragic act in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

"He saved many people here. Arabs and Jews," said Danny Hismi, a leader of a Jewish settlement in downtown Hebron. "In every case with blood, he was the first doctor there."

"Perhaps this is the explanation. Many people died in his hands. Sometimes you want revenge," Mr. Hismi said yesterday.

In Goldstein's old Brooklyn neighborhood, the few who would talk about the attack said that outsiders couldn't understand the pressure that Israeli settlers were under.

"He was pushed beyond his limits by the peace process. This is the true cause of this event," Kach spokeswoman Barbara Ginsburg said.

Mrs. Ginsburg knew Mr. Goldstein when he lived in New York, and said he had been deeply attached to Kahane.

"He was acting to revenge Rabbi Kahane and to protect Israelis," Mrs. Ginsburg said. "He was a martyr."

That seems to have been what Goldstein had in mind. Itim, the Israeli news agency, said he left a note for a colleague on his way to the mosque yesterday. It said: "I enjoyed working as a doctor. Wishing for full redemption."

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