Los Angeles Jewish community on edge after two shootings

Suspect charged with federal hate crimes for attacking two men leaving synagogue on consecutive days

 One of the Los Angeles billboards taken over by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles during Hanukkah 2022 (photo credit: THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER LOS ANGELES)
One of the Los Angeles billboards taken over by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles during Hanukkah 2022

Jaime Tran, a 28-year-old Asian man, was formally charged in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse with two federal hate crimes on Friday, after he was arrested for allegedly shooting two Jewish men in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles in two separate incidents last Wednesday and Thursday.

Tran allegedly shot both men as he drove by them when they were leaving morning services. One man, 47, was shot in the lower back on Shenandoah Street as he was walking to his car. A second man, in his 70s, was shot in the arm on South Bedford Street, earlier the following morning. Both victims are recovering.

At a press conference on Friday, US Attorney Martin Estrada said Tran’s alleged attacks were “motivated by antisemitism…[he] committed two tremendously horrible acts targeting individuals because of their Jewish faith. Hate has no place in our community.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass also spoke at the press conference, stating, “This week, the Pico-Robertson community where I grew up was terrorized. Our Jewish community was terrorized. And that terror was felt all across Los Angeles. One shooting, then a second, and perhaps even scarier, not knowing what would happen next. Today, we can rest, hopefully, a little bit easier. Still, antisemitism and terror are tragically on the rise across our city and across our nation.”

Tran's antisemitism

According to an unsealed complaint filed Friday, Tran specifically sought out members of the Jewish community, telling FBI agents in a recorded interview that he intentionally shot both men, choosing them for their “head gear” that visibly identified them as Jewish.*

Tran also stated that he had looked up “kosher” market on Yelp and decided to shoot someone in the area of the market.

The complaint also revealed that Tran has a history of making antisemitic threats and comments. He was expelled from dental school in 2018 and throughout 2022 sent threatening text messages and voice mails to a former Jewish classmate, similar to threats he had made to the same student before his expulsion.

The multiple, expletive-laden texts included, “STUPID PATHETIC LOSER SUBHUMAN TRASH UGLY DISGUSTING WORTHLESS SENSELESS JEW,” and “Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew.”

Tran also sent emails to dozens of his former classmates in November and December 2022 stating, “That Persian/Iranian Jew of the Class of 2020 made up a fake, bsdisease (COVID) ...”

He included a photograph of a flier that stated: “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE COVID AGENDA IS JEWISH.”

Another email stated: “If you, or a loved one’s business lost revenue by the lockdowns, you should be upset at the Iranian Jew.” He attached a screenshot from a website that defined Persian Jews as being “found in tiny apartments in Westwood and Beverly Hills.” He also described them as being “primitive,” “narrow minded,” and as having “thick skulls.”

Pico-Robertson is a heavily Jewish neighborhood with many synagogues, Jewish stores and kosher restaurants and a sizable Persian population. The shootings have left the community on edge.

Rabbi Len Muroff said he can’t shake the fear. “I feel threatened to say the least,” he said. “I am very wary about going to Temple. Wearing a baseball cap to hide my kippah-wearing identity may not be enough. It’s not even too close to home. It is home.”

Two Holocaust survivors are grappling with how this level of hate still exists. “I just couldn’t believe it,” said Eva Brettler. “Two shootings. I speak very often at the Museum of Tolerance, so I drive by the area often, and it’s really hard to believe that after so many years people haven’t learned anything from the past. As a mother and as a grandmother, I really worry about the next generation.”

I felt horrible,” added Michele Rodri. [The shootings] took me back to 1940. I can’t believe in our America that this is happening. I thought that this would never happen here. I am afraid for my children. I am afraid for all Jewish children. Every Jewish child is like my own. What have we ever done to deserve this?”

It’s a question that Samara Hutman, director of the Righteous Conversations Project that brings together teenagers and Holocaust survivors, grapples with. “Why do some people seeks to destroy?” she said. “What are the conditions that drive them and the factors that make their harm possible? How do we address it?”

Sam Yebri, an attorney and community leader, is also a member of the Persian community and believes it has to be addressed at all levels. “We are seeing antisemitic words become antisemitic incidents become antisemitic violence,” he said. “Thankfully, the victims are recovering but our community may not be this lucky next time. We must demand that our political leaders devote substantial police resources and technology to protect our Jewish institutions and neighborhoods, and that our community come together to invest in security initiatives.”

To that end, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been working to do just that. President and CEO Rabbi Noah Farkas told The Jerusalem Post, “The events of the past couple of days have left our community shaken. We are incredibly grateful for the quick and diligent actions of the LAPD and law enforcement in apprehending the suspect. This violence will not deter our spirit and will only strengthen our resolve as our Federation’s Community Security Initiative (CSI) works with law enforcement to allay the fears of our community and ensure their safety. I’ve spoken with Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli and we very much appreciate the care the people of Israel has for us in this moment.”

True to its word, the Federation will be hosting a Town Hall on antisemitism and violence in the Los Angeles Jewish community on Monday evening at YULA (Yeshiva University of Los Angeles) Boys High School.

In attendance will be YULA Head of School Rabbi Arye Sufrin, Mayor Karen Bass, the area’s Jewish city council member Katy Yaroslavsky and other elected officials, along with law enforcement officials and the Federation’s Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) – that works in tandem with local law enforcement agencies to help combat antisemitism.

Thursday morning’s incident took place just a couple of blocks from YULA Girls High School and Rabbi Sufrin said, “We made the decision to shelter in place [at the girls school] until we had the all-clear. We work with the CSI and we take our security very seriously.” Monday night’s Town Hall, he said, “will be open to all the community to talk about what we can do. We will not live in fear.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Daniel Ebrahimi who said, “I do think it’s a good thing that they’re increasing the police presence in the area; however I don’t think it’s going to do much, because once this all blows over, people are going to go about like nothing happened. But I don’t think it’s going to stop people wearing a kippah or going to kosher restaurants. I do think definitely people will be more aware, but I don’t think it’ll stop people entirely from continuing their lives.”

Rebecca K. said that while she was worried about sending her kids to school and her husband to synagogue in the wake of the shootings, “I was equally worried because the local Magen Am community (an organization that trains and creates armed security teams in the Jewish community), was telling everyone to be extra alert, and there are unfortunately Jews who have bought into gun culture and who think they can stop these kinds of attacks by being more armed. I’m as scared of my neighbors being armed as I am of antisemites.”

On the plus side, she said, “The fact that L.A. Times and NPR reported on it, not just the Jewish press, made me feel weirdly cared for.”

On Friday, the judge remanded Tran without bail and set an arraignment date for March 9. According to US Attorney Estrada, if convicted on both counts, Tran could face life in prison without parole.

* Interviews with community members were conducted prior to the unsealing of the complaint against Tran.