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After Texas hostage crisis, a volunteer patrol seeks to comfort L.A. Jews

Hanna Leah didn’t ask for the Shabbat Angels to show up on the street outside her synagogue Friday night, but she was relieved to see them.

“It gives us a sense of security knowing that they are here for us,” she said as she pushed a stroller and walked with her two little girls to Shabbat services. “We don’t feel more at risk because of what happened in Texas, but it’s nice knowing that we have them around, especially when we are going back home at night.”

Jews in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles find safety in numbers walking to synagogue.

Jews in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles find safety in numbers walking to synagogue. By Ayala Or-El

A week after the hostage situation in Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Zack Zabner and his fellow volunteers showed up to patrol the streets of La Brea Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, making their presence known to the Jews walking to and from the many synagogues in the area, and more importantly, to anyone who would decide to mess with them.

Zabner, 40, is part of a group of young men organized by Remi Franklin, a Jujitsu practitioner who recruited his friends from the gym to protect Jews in the community last summer, after numerous antisemitic incidents around the country put the community on edge.

“When there was war in Israel and everyone thought they had the right to harass Jews in L.A. and New York, we had 30 to 40 volunteers out here every weekend,” said Zabner. “But obviously when the temperature cooled down, we weren’t as active.”

And then Texas happened, and the week before that, the murder of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer at Croft furniture store, which happens to be adjacent to Shaarei Torah synagogue on La Brea.

Zabner and his friends decided it was time to go back and patrol the streets. They arrived there Friday night and Saturday morning. Nobody had called them or asked for their services, but their presence was welcomed by the Jews in the area, like Hanna Levin.

“It’s unfortunate and sad that we have to be here, but we feel the need to protect our Jewish community,” said Zabner, who owns an advertising and billboard company.

Zabner and his friends don’t carry a gun or any other type of weapon. They believe their mere presence on the streets will stop hate crimes.

“Last May, when kids were shot at with paintballs, it made us want to be that much more in their face,” he said, referring to an incident during which passing motorists shot paintballs at children on their way to synagogue “We want to add another measure of protection for them.”

Isaac Munitz was shot with paintballs that came from a passing car

Isaac Munitz was shot with paintballs that came from a passing car

Jamie Forester, 28, joined Zabner during their informal patrol.

Forester, who works in the music industry, wears a Star of David necklace his grandmother gave him, which he never takes off. Both men often receive Shabbat dinner invitations from the community they vow to protect.

Zach Zabner (l) and Jamie Forester of Shabbat Angels

Zach Zabner (l) and Jamie Forester of Shabbat Angels By Ayala Or-El

“Sometimes we go to two-three dinners in one night,” said Forester. His arm tattoo in Hebrew, which translates to “Never Again,” is even a subject topic from time to time around the dinner table.

“They don’t mind it,” he laughed.

A security guard in front of Bais Yehuda synagogue was the only armed man in the area.

“Other temples used to have security until Covid struck,” said the guard, who declined to give his name. “But since then, I’m the only one here. It’s a financial burden on the temples; not everyone can afford it.”

Leah, 18, and her sister Malka, 17, live a 15-minute walk from their synagogue.

“We were never afraid to walk back home at night until a year ago, when there were a few attacks on Jews,” said Leah. “Now we are much more aware of our surroundings, we talked about how to keep safe if anything should happen. We try to walk in big groups as much as possible and so do our brothers. When we see Magen Am and Shabbat Angels in the area, we feel better.”

Magen Am — “the people’s shield” — is the name of another volunteer safety group in the area.

Zabner and Forester don’t particularly like the name Shabbat Angels.

“We are no angels. We are flawed like everybody else. We are not doing anything special,” said Foster. The nickname was given to them by members of the Jewish community and it stuck.

Both men said they feel more attached to their Jewish roots than ever before, in no small part because of the surge in antisemitism incidents in the country.

“For my generation, we have been conditioned to assimilate and kind of hide our symbols and signs of our Judaism,” said Zabner, who grew up Conservative.

“In the past couple of years, I’ve become unapologetic and showing more of my Judaism. I’m more connected to Israel today and my need for a more secured Jewish state is never more obvious then when these things happen.”

But for others walking the streets that evening, Israel and antisemitism were not the main concerns.

Yehudit Margolin, 77, walked past dozens of flower bouquets in front of Croft furniture store, a growing memorial to Kupfer.

“I’m more concerned today with the homeless situation rather than hate crimes,” she said.

On January 19, police arrested 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith, a homeless man, and said he wandered into the store where Kupfer worked and stabbed her to death for no apparent reason.

“There are many homeless in the area. Some are unpredictable and mentally ill. When I’m returning home alone at night, it’s very scary,” Margolin said. I lived here most of my life, and I don’t remember ever being as scared for my safety as I am now.”

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