B”H. 2 Iyar 5779. May 7, 2019
Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Yisroel Goldstein, Howard and Hannah Kaye and the entire Poway Jewish community,
From the depths of my heart I thank you for inviting me to your beautiful community this Shabbat, virtually one week from the moment when your sacred sanctuary was grotesquely defiled and one of your very own was torn away from you.
With your raw wounds wide open, you allowed me in to your most vulnerable space, to pray and celebrate with you, to find strength in each other – to defiantly demonstrate that Am Yisroel Chai, as the Rabbi opened up his stirring words Friday night.
Hundreds of you showed up this Shabbat in Poway. Hundreds of new lights were lit Friday before sunset, ushering in the Shabbat – and many thousands more in shuls throughout the land. Never have lights been more powerful as they pierced and illuminated the darkness that has descended upon us.
People gathered from all walks of life – demonstrating that we are one family, one unit, one organism, regardless of background and persuasion. One man who drove from Los Angeles told me: “I have not been to synagogue for over 20 years. But tonight I absolutely knew that there is no other place I belong but here.”
I will forever remember this Shabbat.
Some described it a Shabbat that combined Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah and Shabbat Nachamu all in one. I would add that the Shabbat was really the conclusion of Passover. Because your Passover was tragically aborted on that last fatal day of the holiday. After the killer entered the shul during the Torah reading of that day, in middle of the fifth reading to be exact, Passover came to a screeching halt. You never finished the prayers, you never ate the holiday meal, you never celebrated Moshiach’s Seudah at the end of the day.
This Shabbos, a week later, you finally had the opportunity to achieve the freedom stolen from you last Shabbos.
We will forever remember this Shabbat.
We cried and laughed together. We danced in one glorious show of unity as we chanted Lecho Dodi. We held hands and touched shoulders in one unbroken circle as we sang Sholom Aleichem.
And perhaps more powerful than all: we simply spent precious time together, with our visceral emotions stripped bare, vulnerable and fragile, yet staunch and resolute – a moment of truth, etched into eternity forever.
Who will ever forget the memorable Friday night dinner in a jam packed banquet hall, where just six days earlier a gunman took Lori Kaye’s life and shot at the Rabbi, leaving bullet holes in the banquet hall doors and walls?
Who will forget how, in middle of the dinner, Peter (Pesach) Yarrow, from the popular 60’s music group “Peter, Paul and Mary,” sang Blowing in the Wind, and hummed along as we all sang the moving Yom Kippur Yaaleh, as he explained why “I was moved to just come from NY and support you in the way that I could”?
Who will ever forget how on Shabbat morning, exactly one week to the minute, 11:35AM, when the terror attack took place, Rabbi Yisroel, who had looked death in its eyes, stood before the open ark, surrounded by Howard and the heroes – Oscar Stewart and Jonathan Morales – who miraculously saved the congregation from a massacre? With his blue bandaged hands waving to heaven, all our hearts were torn asunder as Rabbi Goldstein cried out to G-d on behalf of us all, the entire Jewish people and the entire human race.
At that moment every single person in the shul palpably felt the Rabbi’s gut-wrenching anguish at facing death, and his sheer ecstasy at being granted a new lease on life.
“G-d Almighty. Enough is enough. How much more senseless suffering must we endure?! G-d Almighty please bring an end to all human pain and loss.”
How can we forget Rabbi Goldstein invoking the name of his – our – beloved Rebbe. “Rebbe, this house of worship – Chabad of Poway – was built with your inspiration and direction. Rebbe, please intervene – together with all the Rebbe’s before you – beseech G-d to end this dark golus. Rebbe, you promised us that we are the threshold of the redemption. We pledge that we will do our part to dispel this dark tragedy with light and to turn it into a force of good. Please, Rebbe, please appeal to G-d to do His part and finally bring the Geulah – the final redemption.
“The time when we will be reunited with Lori and all those that died on Kiddush Hashem, together with all our loved ones…”
Who among us will ever forget the Rabbi calling on each one of us to roar out Shema Yisroel as loud as we possibly can, to drown out the thundering sound of the gunshots, and to take on action based resolutions here and now that will completely overshadow the pain and shock of the attack and murder of Lori.
And the stirring prayers led by the Rabin brothers, especially their singing “The little bird is calling… The little bird is wounded…,” concluding: “The little bird is Yisroel, The vultures are our foes, The painful wound is Golus, Which we all feel and know, The nest is Yerushalayim, Where we yearn to be once more, The eagle is the Moshiach, Whom we are waiting for.”
I will never forget my heart-to-heart conversations with Howard and Hannah Kaye, Lori’s surviving husband and daughter; their anguished faces broke my heart, but within that pain was an even more powerful resolve. I will never forget speaking with Oscar and Jonathan, who put themselves at risk to save many lives. Completely unassuming and humble – unaware of why everyone was making a fuss about their heroism – a majestic expression of nobility.
Poway has now become sacred ground – joining other hallowed places on earth where Jewish blood was shed sanctifying G-d’s name – from Egypt to Auschwitz. But that sacred blood has given birth to an unwavering tsunami of courage and strength, an unshakeable devotion and commitment to flood the world with goodness and kindness, an unprecedented display of resilience and hope, of dignity under fire and of sheer determination that we will prevail over all forces of evil and destruction.
Just as in the days of Egypt “the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied and flourished,” so too your Poway community, with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein leading the way, has turned this tragedy into a flourish of good, and will continue to flourish and thrive in unimaginable ways.
Yes, we spent a Shabbos that none of us will ever forget. A Shabbos that, from within the dark belly of the abyss, we found strength more powerful than any black forces; love and unity mightier than any hate and war.
We made history together. Instead of succumbing to fear and anger, instead of feeling defeat and self-pity, you rose to the occasion and showed each other and the world what a Jew is all about: An agent of G-d to transform this sometimes hostile world into a Divine home and garden.
Lori’s tragic killing will be remembered not for its gruesome circumstances, but for the greatness it spawned. Lori will be eternalized not for her loss, but for the perpetual gain achieved by Howard and Hannah and your entire community. Lori brought all of us together. She united hundreds of thousands of Jews from the entire spectrum across this country and the world. Lori has generated millions of new mitzvoth and good deeds.
Her “vacant” seat in the shul, in her home and in the world – emptied by her horrific murder on the last day of Passover – has caused her to be remembered like never before – as we read in the Haftorah on Shabbos. Her seat has been filled many times over by all the kindness and virtue that has grown out of her empty seat.
Rare moments in history become junctures in time. Cracks between darkness and light, between death and life, between hopelessness and hope. Cracks that can either destroy us or build us; cracks that are either separations and breaks, or ones that serve as openings and opportunities. These cracks become formidable junctures connecting the paradoxes of existence. The place where matter meets spirit, good meets evil, life meets death – where heaven meets earth, immortality meets mortality and the divine meets humanity.
This Shabbos was one such rare juncture.
Thank you for allowing me to be part of this immortal experience. Thank you on behalf of all the Jewish people and all the people of the world for “taking the bullet,” and above all – for demonstrating for all to see the best humanity is capable of.
For every challenge we are given extra energy to face the challenge and become stronger for it. May G-d bless you with all the strength to heal form your – our – loss, and to transform it into an unprecedented revolution of goodness and kindness.
May Howard and Hannah be consoled and thrive.
May your community only grow and prosper.
Poway will now forever be etched into the annals of time, as a place where mortal human beings became immortal.
I have now become a permanent member of your community. I have been forever changed by my experience this past weekend with you. Please see me as a friend offering my hand in any way I can, and please know that you can always call on me.
G-d bless you.