There was an overwhelming feeling of strength and resolve among the sea of people approaching the Chabad of Poway on Monday afternoon. People of all faiths and backgrounds traveled from near and far to show support and pay their respects to Lori Gilbert Kaye. Close to 1,000 family, friends, and community leaders came to honor the life that Lori lived, the heroism she displayed only 48 hours prior, and the legacy of love she left behind.
It was the last day of Passover, when the shooter entered the lobby and opened fire just moments before the Yiskor memorial service was set to take place. Lori was killed as she stepped in front of the gunman, shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who suffered gunshot wounds to his hands, losing the index finger on his right hand.
During the levaya, an emotional Rabbi Goldstein saluted Lori as a founding member of the congregation, expressing his gratitude for her tireless efforts in the construction of the shul, and celebrating her, not only as a pillar of the community, but as a lifelong friend. Applause filled the at-capacity sanctuary as Rabbi Goldstein stood boldly and announced that shul services would not stop and that evil would not prevail.
Lori was remembered not only for her brave final moments but for the colorful life she lived, her acts of kindness, and the unconditional love she poured onto her family and community.
“There was one sacrifice chosen. The purest person”, mourned Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, Executive Director of Chabad of San Diego County, “People can be extremely religious, they can hold professional titles, but there’s one title that must come before that. A mensch. If you don’t have that, the rest is meaningless. Lori was a mensch through and through. That’s a title she will carry forever.”
The memories and recognition of Lori’s legacy of kindness were echoed throughout the service.
Elan Carr, United States Special Envoy to monitor and combat Anti-Semitism, cited Lori’s love of Israel and her far-reaching charitable support. “She led a life devoted to embracing the last generation and building a better world for the next”, said Carr. One of the many organizations that benefitted from Lori’s kindness and devotion is Chai Lifeline, where Lori’s sister, Randi Grossman, is the West Coast Director. “Your act of bravery showed the world the essence of who you are, and you have become a hero to the Jewish people,” Randi remarked, “You have always been my hero.” Randi honored her sister’s legacy of giving, “Doing mitzvot was your life, Lori. And you knew no bounds.”
I am still in awe of the strength shown by Lori’s husband, Dr. Howard Kay, and daughter Hannah, as they reflected on the selfless life their wife and mother led. Hannah eloquently spoke of the close relationship she and her mother shared, their journey to accept their differences, and marveled at her mother’s unwavering passion of giving to others. Howard reaffirmed Lori’s life mission of doing good. When a community member couldn’t pay their medical bills, it was Lori who made sure it was covered. When a friend was battling an illness, it was Lori who would drive her to and from appointments and treatments. This was second nature to Lori. To do good. He remembered his wife as a true eshes chayil, who possessed “a soul that was greater than any of us”.
Services at Chabad of Poway will continue. The community will remain strong. And Lori’s legacy will live on, perhaps best exemplified by the Peace Pole she planted at her home which reads in five different languages, “May peace prevail on Earth”.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.