Synagogue shooting victim is honored with new Torah: ‘Her loss is still very raw’

Howard Kaye, the husband of Lori Kaye, carries the new Torah as Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, right, and other members of the Chabad of Poway celebrate its completion.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Outside the Chabad of Poway on Wednesday night, some danced and hopped in unison, others chanted and sang, and a group of women and girls held hands as they skipped in circles, all while raucous music blared in the background.

The joyous, celebratory scene was a far cry from the terror that unfolded there on April 27 when a gunman opened fire at the synagogue, injuring three people and killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye.

On Wednesday night, the Jewish congregation that meets at the Chabad just off Espola Road in the San Diego County city ended its mourning period for Gilbert-Kaye while completing and welcoming its seventh Torah scroll, the most sacred of Jewish texts.

Each Torah scroll must be written by hand — all 304,805 characters, which typically takes a certified scribe about nine months to complete — on kosher animal hide with a quill pen.

But the Torah scroll welcomed with such joy Wednesday will be a special one for the Chabad. It was dedicated in memory of Gilbert-Kaye.


“Her loss is still very raw, and it’s very painful,” said Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. “The Torah tonight is going to begin healing our hearts, that Lori’s life is not in vain.”

Before the ceremony began, Goldstein took hold of the quill pen in his right hand — which suffered the loss of an index finger to a bullet from the gunman’s AR-15-style rifle on the final day of Passover — and finished one of the final characters on the Torah scroll.

Before the rabbi wrote, Oscar Stewart and Jonathan Morales had each taken turns writing a character. Stewart, a 51-year-old Iraq War veteran, and Morales, a Border Patrol agent, were credited with chasing the gunman from the Chabad as he attempted to reload his weapon. Morales fired at the fleeing gunman’s car.

Others in the congregation also wrote characters in the Torah before the final character was inked by Gilbert-Kaye’s husband, Howard Kaye, and their daughter, Hannah.

After the writing was complete, the Torah scroll was lifted high as the crowd shouted in Hebrew, “This is the tree of life, who hold onto it.”

After the scroll was adorned with special decorative items by Stewart and Morales, Howard Kaye topped the scroll with a silver crown.

Then the celebration began.

It started with singing and cheering inside the Chabad’s main meeting hall.

Then the scroll was taken to the streets under a traditional canopy, where it was carried by Goldstein and others as they danced and sang along with the congregants gathered around them.

The scroll itself, worth $40,000, was a gift from the Jaffa Family Foundation of New York, Cleveland and Minneapolis. It was made possible through the work of Bentzion Chanowitz, a Brooklyn pharmacist who runs a side business loaning Torah scrolls to Jewish congregations. Chanowitz helped to secure the new scroll for the Chabad.

A certified scribe from New York, Israel Leibovitz, accompanied the scroll, guiding and directing all those who inked characters in it.

Jews believe the first Torah was written some 3,300 years ago. The modern-day ritual attempts to emulate the writing of the first scroll. Each Torah scroll ends with the word “Israel,” and thus the Hebrew letter for L, Lamed.

Goldstein found special significance in that Wednesday night as Howard and Hannah Kaye wrote Lamed, not only for the last letter of Israel, but for the first letter of Lori.