NOTE: This letter was written by Elan Lee, a friend of Lori Gilbert-Kaye. She gave her life to save Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein in the deadly shooting Saturday at Chabad of Poway synagogue. Lee wrote this letter as a tribute to the life of Gilbert-Kaye.
Our family was raised in the Chabad of Poway synagogue. The temple has been a pillar in our city for 25 years; a place of worship, faith, community, and family. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein has known me since the day I was born. His vision and drive to build a Jewish community in Poway is what brought us all together. It’s what brought the Lee family to the Kaye family.
We grew up with Rabbi Goldstein’s family, at the Chabad of Poway. Over the years he has been a beacon of support; at holidays, celebrations, ups and downs, Rabbi Goldstein has always been there. I can still clearly remember the phone call, when out of the blue, he found my telephone number, to wish me condolences upon hearing that my best friend had commit suicide. I remember him asking if I knew who it was on the phone… I told him, “of course, I obviously remember your voice, Rabbi.”
Even before I graduated, he was so excited to start calling me Dr. Lee, and he still makes it a point to show off about me being his dentist. That’s his personality. He is upbeat and is always welcoming with open arms. As kid I remember his handshakes… Rabbi Goldstein would squeeze your hand tight! It was not until I became older that I finally was able to give him a proper handshake. I will miss that.
Rabbi Goldstein however was not the only pillar in the community. There was another. One that if you would ask anyone in the congregation, who else was the glue that held the fabric of the community together, they would know exactly who it was. Lori Kaye. Lori Kaye was the kindest person I’ve ever known; And likely will ever know. She was the real deal. There was never a date, birthday, event, anniversary, dinner, graduation, you name it- that she would miss. Ever. If it was important to you, no matter how big or small- it was important to her, and Lori would be there.
I look back at any important milestone in my life and Lori was always there. And it wasn’t just me or the Lee family, everyone at the Chabad of Poway knew her name because she made an effort to befriend them, and take them in. She was there at their milestones too.
There is so much that Lori left my family and I, I have no idea where to begin. Our family had the honor of spending Loris last night on Earth with her. She had driven up to Redlands for my sisters graduation with her daughter Hannah. At dinner, Hannah suggested that being that it is a celebratory dinner, we go around the table and each say one thing that they had learned from my sister Keren. Lori was the fourth one to speak, and no one at the table could keep it together. We were all in tears. Lori had a way of beautifully painting a portrait with her words. With her quotes. She could easily remember specific stories and recite all the details that would have otherwise been forgotten. Lori had told my sister that Keren had taught her what unconditional love is. There was no other perfect example of unconditional love, than with Lori. Lori gave so much, and asked for nothing in return. I cannot think of a single example of where she put her own needs in front of the needs of others. Not. A. Single. Example.
Even typing this now, I look down at the clothes I’m wearing… they were gifted to me by Lori. I look around the house, and see countless decorations that she had given us. She kept us well fed. The day her mother died was a Friday night, and 4/6 of the Lee family members were out of town. It was only my dad and I in Poway, and Lori cooked and provided a full meal for us! We couldn’t believe it. Lori cooked and delivered a full Shabbat meal for us the day her mother died because she heard that my dad and I would be eating alone. My own family doesn’t treat me this well.
She left that dinner and drove home from Redlands at midnight. Then again, in the typical selfless Lori fashion, the first thing she did in the morning was bring my grandmother coffee. She hand delivered the coffee to our house, and left to attend prayer services at the synagogue.
Lori Kaye was met with gunfire in the lobby of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 27, 2019.
Rabbi Goldstein was shot at first. He was shot in the hands and lost his index finger in the attack. With her last moments Lori intercepted the bullets that were intended for our Rabbi. Her last action, like everything else she had done in her life, was for others.
The strength of the congregants in the sanctuary prevented further fatalities. Upon hearing the gunfire, one of the congregants quickly retrieved a concealed pistol and confronted and shot at the gunman. He never made it fully into the temple.
I have always been a believer that everything happens for a reason. And of this I am certain. If Lori has not been in the lobby, this tragedy would have been an absolute massacre. I know Lori would have been proud to have served our community one last time.
I will miss her a lot, and know that others will too.