Dr. Howard Kaye will not allow himself to be depressed. He said he can be sad, but the practicing rheumatologist chooses to maintain a positive outlook despite the tragedy he faced.
Kaye lost his wife, Lori Gilbert- Kaye, on April 27, 2019, when a shooter entered the Chabad of Poway in Southern California and opened fire. The shooting near San Diego occurred six months to the day after the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
At the Chabad of Mesa’s “From Darkness to Light” event on Monday, Aug. 5, at the Mesa Arts Center, Kaye shared more about his late wife.
“She kept diaries since she was a child and even at the age of 9, Lori was saying, ‘This neighbor needs this, I helped this person get something.’ They were filled with all of these positive things,” Kaye said. “She was everyone’s best friend.”
Gilbert-Kaye was one of the congregation’s oldest members. She had helped secure the loan for the building Chabad of Poway uses in the early 1990s.
Kaye always knew how much his wife worked to provide good deeds for her community, but he wasn’t aware of the impact of that work until after her funeral. When Kaye saw a large discount from AM Israel Mortuary in San Diego for Lori, he called them to thank them for their benevolence.
“They told me, ‘You don’t understand — Lori was an honorary employee,’ and I asked them what that meant,” Kaye said. “It turns out she had attended every unaccompanied funeral and read messages of comfort to the deceased for the past 20 years. And that blew me away, because I had no idea.”
Originally, this event was supposed to feature Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. However, just a few weeks prior, Goldstein — who had two fingers blown off during the shooting, one of which was reattached — cancelled all of his upcoming speeches due to sustained injuries. Kaye agreed to speak in his stead. This is one of Kaye’s first public speaking engagements since the shooting.
“I wanted the world to focus on who Lori was and how she was taken away,” Kaye said. “From my standpoint, I view her death as a figurative warning canary. She was such a peaceful and pleasant soul, and to be taken away by such senseless evil, it should have been a warning to the world.”
Kaye kept silent about the shooting for the past three months, in part due to grief and because he wanted to make sure that Lori’s story was remembered properly. His first public acknowledgment of the shooting was in an opinion piece for Newsweek, in which he wrote that his new mission is to make sure that another Poway never happens again.
During his speech, Kaye talked about educating the world about its inherent moral compass. After Gilbert-Kaye’s death, he focused his attention on the Seven Noahide Laws, which he feels are a strong foundation for spreading his message of better moral understanding. He said that Lori lived by those principals.
For Chabad of Mesa Rabbi Laibel Blotner, the news of the shooting hit close to home. Blotner’s daughter is married to Goldstein’s son. Blotner said that Kaye was the perfect example of the power of Jewish optimism.
“As the tragic events in Poway prove, we the Jewish people do not allow tragedy to define us,” Blotner said. “No matter what time period or events that take place in the world, we as a people believe that better days lie ahead.”
Blotner purposefully held this event just before Tisha B’Av, which is considered the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. He felt that Kaye’s words could continue to inspire people during the somber day.
“You know, Rabbi Goldstein and Dr. Kaye have both experienced a horrific tragedy in their lives, but they continue to inspire others through their actions,” Blotner said. “I hope that everyone who walks out of the event feels hopeful and shares that hope with everyone, Jewish or non-Jewish.”
Kaye shared his condolences for the families of the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“I always tell people when something like this happens to try and take the high road,” Kaye said. “I know it’s hard to remain positive, but anger and vengeance are wrong and they will only get you into trouble.”
Kaye plans to keep pushing through with his new mission, not just to honor the memory of his late wife, but to better serve his patients.
“I’m a physician, I have my mission and that is to take care of people,” Kaye said. “All of my patients have been wonderful and very supportive of me, and they don’t want me to leave.” JN