June 19, 2019

Shuls Are Powered by Women Like Lori

Lori Gilbert-Kaye

I drove down to San Diego for Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s funeral, the 60-year old woman of valor who was killed in the Chabad of Poway shooting. I wanted to support her family, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and their community in the wake of a tragedy that touched every Jew in the world. 

I expected to be moved. As soon as I saw Gilbert-Kaye’s picture on the night of the slaying, I could tell that she was warm, outgoing and familiar: a Jewish mom who reminded me of my mom, my wife and so many of our friends.

I have lost count of all the mass murders in recent news. Only one person died in the synagogue that day. So why did her death touch us so deeply? Why did her death dominate the news cycle for two days? I believe it’s because we all know Lori.

At her memorial service I learned she contributed to every fundraiser like her fellow congregants, but she would stop by the rabbi’s house to deliver her checks personally. 

Her friend Roneet Lev related that Lori’s checks were more than just generous. They were challenges. When Lev would go on a vacation abroad, her best friend Gilbert-Kaye would give her a $100 check to be delivered to some worthy nonprofit. It was a sweet chore that led to eye-opening discoveries and new relationships.

Her daughter, Hannah, shared the ups and downs of her tight relationship with a mother who cared for everybody yet always made time to chauffeur her around, and encourage Hannah’s artistic aspirations. 

Gilbert-Kaye’s husband, Howard, stood strong, making his intense grief all the more poignant. He described the messages framed around their home in multiple languages praying for peace to fill the world. And he was one of many who called Gilbert-Kaye an ayshet chayil from the passage in Proverbs we recite at Shabbat dinner, “A woman of valor, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. … Give her due credit for her accomplishments, let her own works praise her at the Gates.”

Every speaker added another detail to the portrait for those of us not privileged to have known Gilbert-Kaye. Warm details, adorable details, funny details. Yet the details were not surprising because we know Lori. Anybody who attends a synagogue, church or mosque knows her.

Women like Gilbert-Kaye are the backbone of our lives in faith. They show up early, donate first, organize food drives, and host visiting speakers. And after completing such tasks, they thank our leaders for giving them the opportunity. 

Women like Gilbert-Kaye are the backbone of our lives in faith. They show up early, donate first, organize food. drives.

Meanwhile, they not only take care of their spouses, children and neighbors, they also do more than any other group to care for the world’s senior citizens. And they do it with a smile.

At Accidental Talmudist, we share Jewish wisdom with a worldwide audience. Our community is very diverse, but our largest single demographic is women ages 50 to 65. Where would be without them? Lost.

And that’s why we were all so crushed by the news of Gilbert-Kaye’s death. This was an attack on all of us. An attack on everyone who thanks God for sending us women like Gilbert-Kaye, who build nurturing communities. Leading by example, they inspire us all to visit the sick, educate the young, care for the elderly and grow spiritually day by day. 

The subhuman suspect, those who educated him in hatred, and the trolls who encouraged him online, succeeded in causing pain. But they failed spectacularly in dividing us or making us cower. Goldstein’s reaction to the loss of our beloved Gilbert-Kaye dominated the news cycle on every channel with a simple message: honor Lori Gilbert-Kaye by battling darkness with light.

Knowing Lori Gilbert-Kaye, she’d say, “Amen!”


Salvador Litvak shares Jewish wisdom daily at AccidentalTalmudist.org.