Local rabbi speaks out, embarks for Israel: ‘The worst trauma that the Jewish community has suffered since the Holocaust.’ 

Paul Kessler on Nov. 5, 2023. Photo courtesy of JLTV.
Paul Kessler on Nov. 5, 2023. Photo courtesy of JLTV.

Blazer connects with those affected, reports eyewitness accounts of former SCV resident killed in Thousand Oaks protest 

“This is a trauma. This is the worst trauma that the Jewish community has suffered since the Holocaust.”  

Those are the words of Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami, referencing the Oct. 7 attacks this week as he also fielded media inquiries about a Southern California casualty of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A former Santa Clarita Valley resident who was killed during a clash between demonstrators on Sunday in Thousand Oaks. 

“It’s devastating to think that this happened anywhere in the world, let alone a place that we care about and a place that for many of us is a place where we have family, where we have friends, and a place that we care about deeply,” Blazer said of the Oct. 7 surprise attack in which the Hamas terrorist organization killed approximately 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians, and took more than 200 hostages. 

Israel subsequently declared war on Hamas, targeting the organization in the Gaza Strip, where the war’s death toll has been estimated to be over 10,000 to date. 

The conflict has spawned protests around the world, and close to home here, too: On Nov. 5, Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish man and former Santa Clarita resident, was struck in the face by a pro-Palestine demonstrator during dueling protests in Thousand Oaks. Kessler fell to the ground and later died of his injuries. 

Blazer, who spoke to witnesses of the incident, has relayed those accounts to a range of media outlets as he prepared this past week to leave the Santa Clarita Valley for Israel on a relief mission. In the past month, Blazer has been taking his time talking and connecting to those who have been deeply affected by these tragedies. 

“The rise in antisemitism here in America has really taken people by shock,” said Blazer. 

Keeping the communities connected has been vital for processing all that has been done, he said. Temple Beth Ami has been holding meditation circles, singing the Israel national anthem at the end of their Friday night services and raising money for those impacted by the attacks.   

“We’ve created a community where Israel is at the center of our lives anyways,” said Blazer. 

However, Blazer wanted to do more.   

“We had to do something and so I’m planning on going there,” said Blazer. “We’ve raised thousands of dollars for communities impacted by terror. This was violence at its worst, at its worst level, at its highest level, as most gruesome attacks.” 

Blazer had arranged his trip approximately two weeks ago before the Nov. 5 incident occurred resulting in the death of Kessler, who, according to a former resident who knew him, lived in Canyon Country until about 20 years ago when he relocated to Ventura County.  

Now, Blazer said, this trip has taken on a new dimension for him.  

“We’re going there to not only let them know that we’re standing with them in solidarity, but that we’re actually now sharing in violence that’s directed at us here in the United States,” said Blazer.  

The Nov. 5 incident 

On Tuesday, a new friend of Kessler’s, Jon Oswaks, appeared on a Jewish Life Television broadcast to give his recollection of what happened the preceding Sunday.  

Two weeks ago, Oswaks saw on the Nextdoor app that there were talks of an anti-Israel demonstration. Oswaks thought to go to show his support for Israel and he connected with Kessler on the app to do so.   

“’I’ll be there with you,’” said Kessler to Oswaks.  

The two took street corners in Thousand Oaks to show their support for Israel. A group of men sat on a nearby bench watching them.  

One of the men approached Oswaks and flashed a gun at him.  

A week later, Oswaks and Kessler decided to go back out – stand on a street corner in Thousand Oaks to show their support for Israel.  

As anti-Israel protesters arrived, Oswaks and Kessler grabbed three flags – the American flag, the Gadsden flag and the flag of Israel.  

“Paul wanted, Paul insisted on holding the Israeli flag,” said Oswaks. “I asked him at least three times to give it to me. Paul was a lot smaller than I am.” 

“I am proud to hold that flag against that giant,” Oswaks recalled Kessler saying.  

Kessler also knew of the dangers of being at the demonstration. He had warned Oswaks prior of the actions he had seen the anti-Israel protesters take.  

“It wasn’t long before the men that were videoing me and Paul stood behind me, right on that corner there, with a megaphone in my ear exactly the way he told me it was going to happen,” said Oswaks.  

Oswaks told the men to back away and they listened. Until: 

“He got nowhere with the bigger guy so he went for the smaller guy,” said Oswaks.  

The men followed Kessler and proceeded to do the same thing they had just done to Oswaks, he said.  

At this time, Oswaks and Kessler became disconnected.  

Oswaks recalls seeing someone being struck in the face by a white megaphone. What he hadn’t registered in that moment is that it was Kessler.  

“Where’s Paul?” asked Oswaks. “‘Paul went to the hospital,’” Oswaks recalled someone telling him. 

Oswaks went to the hospital immediately after, but in the moment the lady at the desk asked him, “What the patient’s name?” he realized something: He didn’t know Paul’s last name.  

Oswaks was denied from visiting and turned away.  

Kessler later succumbed to his injuries from falling backward after being struck. His cause of death was labeled by Ventura County authorities as blunt-force head trauma. 

“If you hit a man who’s nearly 70, there’s unfortunately a higher probability that that person is going to be seriously injured,” said Blazer.  

Blazer and Oswaks united in front of a crowd at a press conference to call for justice for Kessler’s death and all that has occurred since Oct. 7.  

Said Blazer: “Stop killing us. Stop killing us in Israel and stop killing us in Southern California.”  

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