Ten years ago today, Rabbi Mark Blazer was in an emergency room.
He wasn't hurt physically. Emotionally, he was dealing with helping the victims of a hate crime, a senseless shooting of innocent children and workers in the North Valley Jewish Community Center. Later, he would deal with his own disbelief and grief at the audacity of the event.
Ten years later, Rabbi Blazer was a little more relaxed, albeit aware that his congregation - as well as its community - wanted to commemorate the miracle of survival.
A small but earnest group gathered at the site of a paintball field on The Old Road in Newhall, navigating the uneven ground in sensible shoes; clustering under a few pop-up shades to shield them from the morning's blazing sun.
He thought it important to do this at about the same time as the original event. Around a quarter to 11, he reminded the group that a decade earlier, a man he refused to name - Buford Furrow Jr. - walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center and peppered a classroom and hallways with semi-automatic fire, wounding five, before he stole a car and killed a Filipino mail carrier.
Blazer was joined by several survivors; a teacher whose art students crouched in terror behind upended tables in class as she saved the life of a young boy; a father who recalled the fear and uncertainty when police could not tell him if his 4-year old daughter was alive and those who remember because they cannot, will not, ever forget.
The gathering was held at the paintball field not for dramatic effect, but because the North Valley center where the shootings took place is closed, no longer a resource to the community. This ground, a 19-acre parcel purchased by the Southern California Center for Jewish Life, will be the site of a new JCC, where children and adults will come together to celebrate their faith, diversity and community.
"This replaces, augments and adds to the Jewish Community Center from the North Valley," Blazer explained. "We hope it will stretch from the San Fernando Valley all the way north, to Palmdale and Lancaster."
Blazer estimates the center could serve up to 50,000 people. In addition, he said that the center will include active senior housing. The group is in escrow now, with the groundbreaking expected in 2010.
Jerry Wayne, who will direct the new center, said that there are still many lessons to be learned.
"Over the years, the community has become stronger," he said. "We had to build walls and security, which we never had before, but the community came together to help. That's what comes out of something like this. The whole Jewish community has jelled and it's an awareness that nobody is alone."
"I think the only thing is that it has to start with kids," he continued. "Educators have to get together and help kids understand how it is to work with other kids. Not everybody can win and when somebody loses, you pick them up and work together to create a community. Tikkum Olam - which means repair the world. What we're going to try to do at the center is that every program will try to do something to repair the world, even our preschool children. If you don't start at that age, it's never going to happen."
Joshua Frazin, whose 4-year old daughter Sarah was a child at the center the day of the shooting (and was the "end of the daisy chain" led by LAPD officers away from the center) says that fortunately, the memory does not haunt his daughter, but that the importance of having a place like the JCC is more critical now than ever.
"My father was a past president of the center, my mother was fundraiser. I went to the preschool, so it was natural to bring my daughter there," he said. "It was the sense of community that made me take my daughter there 26 years later. There is a need, not just in the Jewish community, but in all communities, for a place that kids and adults can go into and feel a sense of belonging."
Rhea Nagle was a watercolor teacher at the center who remembers hearing an unfamiliar sound that she thought was jackhammering.
"It sounded like something I'd never heard before," she said. "My class included an Israeli woman, Dalia, and she said 'That's an Uzi, somebody is shooting at us.' I said don't be silly, this doesn't happen here.
"I walked out to see what was happening. I saw the back of a man who was doing something that was making noise, he turned and I saw his profile and the profile of the gun. He was probably shooting Benjamin Kadish (a 6-year old who was the most severely wounded, he has since recovered). He started turning toward me, I moved back into the room, by this time Dalia had knocked down the tables and got everybody behind them. I grabbed her daughter and put her in a corner and stood in front of her, I figured if someone had o be shot in this room, better me than this child.
"I went out and saw Benjamin laying in the hallway, there was blood all over. I went and grabbed him, Dalia grabbed some blankets to cover him. Thank God for the Burbank police and fire department, I am a retired teacher and they taught us first aid. I applied pressure, tried to get him to talk with me. At first I thought he wasn't speaking English. I realized this child was dying. I could see the fireman outside the doorway, I screamed 'we're losing him' and the fireman came running in. I told him I was going to hold his hand until his mother got there, but I couldn't. According to the surgeon, the little bit I did saved his life."
The firefighter made a split-second decision when he examined Kadish; traditionally children are airlifted to Childrens Hospital, but he knew the expertise in trauma and gunshot wounds at Providence-Holy Cross hospital just down the block would probably save the young boy's life.
"I asked myself, what kind of animal shoots children in the back?" Nagle concluded.
Rabbi Blazer led the small group in prayers of remembrance, of survival and peace, leaving them with a thought of hope. On the artist renderings of the new center, it is not immediately apparent that there is a security checkpoint. Blazer told those gathered that they hope for the day that those checkpoints can be abandoned.