Last week Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was fighting for his life, struggling against a man who attacked him with a knife and a gun outside a Jewish school in Brighton, according to authorities.
“If people want to see a miracle, they should look at me,” he said, speaking in Hebrew to reporters who gathered in his family’s Brighton home on Sunday afternoon. “Because the same man tried to stab me tens of times, maybe even hundreds of times, over the course of seven or eight minutes.”
The attacker landed eight blows Thursday afternoon — stab wounds to Noginski’s stomach, ribs, and left arm, he said.
Noginski said he ran from the armed man, in an attempt to draw him away from Shaloh House, a Jewish day school where children were in the middle of summer camp activities. The man was arrested, and Noginski hospitalized.
By Friday afternoon, with the help of two of his older sons, Noginski was able to walk to his synagogue for a Shabbat service and say a prayer to thank his creator for saving him from certain death.
“Against darkness, against evil, the answer and the cure is goodness. It’s grace. It’s light. If you light a match in a dark room, that bit of light from a match eliminates all the darkness,” Noginski said.
“So my plan for the immediate future is to increase the amount of good that we do, to increase the Torah teaching that we do. To help more people. And that will help me heal, and help the entire environment around me.”
Noginski spoke Sunday with Rabbi Dan Rodkin, executive director of Shaloh House, and Jeremy Poock, a member of the board of directors, by his side at one end of a dining room table. His wife and 11 of his 12 children — the oldest is 20, and the youngest will soon turn 1 — occasionally came by and peeked into the room where TV cameras were pointed at Noginski.
Boston police officers arrested 24-year-old Khaled A. Awad Thursday after a brief standoff. He has pleaded not guilty to seven charges including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury.
Authorities have not said what may have motivated the attack. At a Friday vigil organized to support Noginski, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said her office is still looking into it.
“We have to recognize that antisemitism is on the rise, and we need to hold people accountable when they do this, so that they are made an example of,” Rollins said. “This is a continued civil rights investigation. ... Right now we just want to make sure that this rabbi is alive and going to survive.”
The Anti-Defamation League recorded a slight drop in antisemitic harassment, assault, and vandalism in Massachusetts in 2020, though the number of cases remained near historic highs.
“Every Jewish person in every place, we are told to be alert and careful,” Noginski said Sunday.
But since the attack, he has tried to encourage his children not to be afraid.
“... We don’t have to be ashamed of being Jewish. We don’t have to hide our kippah [yarmulke], or the tzitzit [tassels] we wear, or the clothes that show that we are Jewish. We need to be proud of the fact that we are Jewish, and The Holy One, blessed be He, will watch over us, like he watched over me.”
Noginski said he did not recognize the man who approached him outside the school early Thursday afternoon. Awad threatened him with a gun, Noginski said, and tried to force him into a van owned by the school.
“He wanted the van, and I said to him, take the keys,” Noginski said. “I told him once, I told him twice, and it was documented on the Shaloh House cameras. He didn’t want the keys, he told me he wanted me to get into the van with the keys.”
Quickly, Noginski said, he realized this probably was not a run-of-the-mill robbery and started running toward Brighton Square, to try and lead the attacker away from the school, where children were in the middle of summer camp programming.
“From the start, when he pointed a gun at me, I understood that he wanted to kidnap and kill me,” Noginski said. “And to my luck, when we approached the road and another person passed us by and I tried to draw his attention, he [Awad] put the gun back into his pants, so that nobody would notice. Then he took out the knife.”
Noginski said he made the split-second decision to try and keep the children safe.
“I seized the opportunity that the gun was not in his hand but in his pocket to try and escape, and to get him away from the school, from the danger, with all the children who were there.”
Noginski was born in Saint Petersburg in Russia and his family emigrated to Israel when he was 10 after his mother was threatened by an antisemitic group.
His mother, a pianist and composer, was threatened by the group after she won a prestigious competition and got a chance to play at the Kremlin, he said. She responded by signing her son up for Judo lessons, and then by escaping during a concert in Finland and asking for asylum for the family in Israel.
Noginski eventually earned a black belt in Judo, though he said he could not remember the skills he had once mastered in the frenzy of the attack Thursday.
The rabbi spent most of his life in Kfar Chabad, a village outside Tel Aviv populated by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic sect. He married, had 11 children, studied religious texts, and ran a car rental business.
But he felt he wanted to devote more of himself to his religion and in August 2019 moved to Brighton to work with Shaloh House on Torah study and on creating a community for Jewish people immigrating from Russia. His 12th child, a son named Israel, was born in Boston last July.
The support he’s gotten, both from Boston and from around the world, has been overwhelming, he said.
Shaloh House is planning to ordain eight additional rabbis this year, one for each stab wound Noginski suffered.
And Noginski encouraged people to go out and do good deeds, to balance the scales toward the better.
“People are praying, thank the Lord, all over the world,” he said. “We are taught that there is evil in the world. And we usually pray that the evil will disappear, and that people will be good. And it’s hard — as long as there is a possibility for a person to improve, we pray that the evil will disappear, and not the people. But sometimes, that’s not always possible.”
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2043.