After Poway shooting, local Chabad event puts love before hate

Ariella Lee, a University of Arizona student who is member of Chabad of Poway, speaks at Chabad Tucson May 1. (Photo by Martha Lochert)

People forget what you said, people forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

With these famous words from poet Maya Angelou, University of Arizona student and Chabad of Poway member Ariella Lee summed up the philosophy of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, a close family friend who was killed April 27 when a lone gunman burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue and began shooting. Three others, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, were wounded in the attack.

Choking back tears, Lee spoke at a community gathering at Chabad Tucson on May 1.

“I went home for a celebration, and stayed for a tragedy,” she said, explaining that her family had gathered for her sister’s college graduation, and had shared Shabbat dinner with Gilbert-Kaye the night before she was killed.

Gilbert-Kaye, a mainstay of the close-knit Chabad of Poway community, was like a second mother to her, Lee said, recalling that one of her many kind acts was giving tambourine necklaces, a symbol of Moses’ sister Miriam, to girls celebrating a bat mitzvah.

She spoke of the outpouring of support from thousands in the Poway and San Diego communities who lined the streets on the day of Gilbert-Kaye’s funeral, which ended with people singing at the cemetery. “I could feel Lori dancing, shaking along with her tambourine. She would have wanted it no other way.”

Lee encouraged everyone to “emulate Lori and do random acts of kindness that will drown out the hate and make the world a better place.”

Love instead of hate was the theme of speaker after speaker at the event, which Chabad Tucson sponsored along with Chabad at the UA, Chabad Oro Valley, Chabad on River and Chabad of Cochise County.

The gathering was not a vigil but an evening of solidarity and prayer, said Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, outreach director of Chabad Tucson, who served as emcee of the event.

People from within and beyond the Tucson Jewish community filled the pews and the benches lining the synagogue walls.

Noting that “a single person with evil intent” killed Gilbert-Kaye and injured Goldstein, 8-year-old Noya Dahan, and her uncle, Almog Pertz, Ceitlin said, “Our bodies were shaken when we heard the news and frankly it still does now … Out of sorrow must come something better. This is a show of unity, solidarity, and strength. We are united, our community is united, and we will fill our hearts with love and not hate.”

He acknowledged that Chabad centers worldwide will have to “balance between keeping our doors open and keeping them safe enough,” citing the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October as well as the Poway incident.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild called on those assembled to speak out against anti-Semitism, white supremacism, gun violence, and hate. While we wait for gun laws that will make it harder to purchase automatic weapons, he said, we can still work to make a difference. “We must commit ourselves to speak with each other, with our neighbors, and quite simply, ‘to bring God’s light into this world,’” he said, quoting from Goldstein’s April 29 article in the New York Times.

“We cannot allow our hearts to be filled with fear,” even if that is a natural reaction, Tucson Police Deputy Chief Chad Kasmar said. “Let us fill our hearts with unwavering and unshaken faith, perseverance, unity, and courage because Miss Lori Kaye would expect no less from us.”

Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman of Chabad Oro Valley led a prayer, Rabbi Yossie Shemtov of Chabad Tucson taught a lesson from Torah, and Rabbi Yossi Winner of Chabad at the UA led the crowd in singing “Oseh Shalom,” a prayer for peace.

After the gathering, as attendees slowly exited the building, Ceitlin told the AJP, “It was good to see the amount and diversity of people that came out. The community recognizes good from evil and knows it is up to us to show it. We will work with law enforcement, but we need to step up our game with the community and others — human beings. We have to put people first.”

“It’s heartwarming to see the support of our community, Jewish people and non-Jewish people,” said longtime community volunteer Karen Katz, the incoming campaign chair for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy.

With the encouragement of Arik Shemtov, 15, son of Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Shemtov, UA student Michael Greenberg, 19, wrapped the straps of tefillin (boxes containing parchment with biblical texts) around his arm and forehead and chanted a prayer. Putting on or “laying” tefillin is considered the fulfillment of a great mitzvah (commandment).

“I come from a secular family,” Greenberg said. “I didn’t grow up religious, but when events like this happen, I feel that I need to come and kind of go back to my roots.”

Rabbi Robert Eisen of Conservative synagogue Congregation Anshei Israel agreed that the response to such tragedies should be to “be more Jewish,” to do, “as Chabad would say,” one more mitzvah.

“I was moved and appreciative of the message that Judaism is about kindness,” said local doctor Stephen Wool. “We are all capable of that every day.”

AJP Assistant Editor Debe Campbell contributed to this report.