In the presence of armed guards, family members, friends and supporters of many faiths gathered at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks Wednesday for a vigil to remember 69-year-old Paul Kessler, a Jewish man who died just three miles away during an altercation with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator last weekend.
Deputies with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office received multiple calls at around 3:20 p.m. Nov. 5 about a “battery” at the intersection of Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards where demonstrations were taking place involving pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.
When deputies arrived, they located Kessler, who was suffering from a head injury, the Sheriff’s Office said. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries on Monday.
“His family is grieving,” Rabbi Ari Averbach told KTLA’s Samantha Cortese. “Just a few days ago, he was a healthy guy looking at retirement.”
While the circumstances surrounding Kessler’s death are still under investigation, rabbis and dignitaries at the vigil asked for allies to step forward and not mourn alone.
“This is a test for our Conejo Valley and for California and the country and, really, the world right now. Do we matter?” State Senator Henry Stern, who represents District 27, said.
Emily Sehatai said going to the vigil made her feel accepted.
“At school, the conversations have been super muted, and this is the first time I feel immersed in a community for who I am,” she explained.
Irma Sommerfeld said Kessler’s death was a defining moment and that she’s stronger in her faith than ever before.
“This incident with Paul Kessler has energized me to put up a flag, wear a Jewish star,” she said. “Before, I was more hesitant to have a star on. I was nervous about it, but now we are going to buy an Israeli flag.”
While many of the Jewish people at the vigil said they are not surprised by the recent antisemitism, others say the past month since the Hamas terror attack has been eye-opening.
“The amount of antisemitism that’s been happening has truly been mind-blowing for me,” Thousand Oaks Police Department Chief Jeremy Paris said.
As for Rabbi Averbach, he believes people have got to find a way to communicate without violence.
“Jews and non-Jews, people who support Israel and don’t, we need to feel like there’s a place for dialogue where we can talk to each other kindly,” he said.
A therapist will be available at the temple this weekend for those struggling to cope with the recent tension and violence.
KTLA also learned that Paul Kessler will be laid to rest this weekend.