A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN GASTALDO)
Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was murdered Saturday when John Earnest, 19, allegedly burst into her Poway synagogue and opened fire. According to reports, Gilbert-Kaye was shot at close range. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the synagogue was immediately behind her.
In a piece celebrating Gilbert-Kaye’s life, which was first published on Facebook, close friend Audrey Jacobs described her as “a jewel of our community, a true eshet chayil – a woman of valor.”
Jacobs was the first to report that Gilbert-Kaye jumped in front of Goldstein, taking the bullet that took her life, but saving his.
“You were always running to do a mitzvah [good deed] and generously gave tzedaka [charity] to everyone,” Jacobs described. She said that saving the rabbi was “your final good deed.”
Gilbert-Kaye leaves behind “a devastated husband and a 22-year-old daughter,” Jacobs wrote.
A subsequent interview by Goldstein with USA Today explained in greater detail that the rabbi saw Gilbert-Kaye fall after being shot while he was out of the sanctuary washing his hands before the Yizkor memorial service. They were both in the synagogue’s banquet hall at the time.
Gilbert-Kaye was in synagogue to say the memorial prayer for her late mother, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Her husband, a physician, was in synagogue with her. When he started to perform CPR on a victim and realized it was his wife, he fainted, according to the report.
Rabbi Goldstein told USA Today that Gilbert-Kaye was a “pioneering family member of our congregation.” He said he started the congregation 35 years ago when he was 22, and Gilbert-Kaye helped secure the construction loan.
He described her as a “kind soul. Everyone in the community knew her.”
Goldstein said how he and his family celebrated the wedding in New York of their youngest daughter two weeks prior. Gilbert-Kaye flew out to dance with the family at the wedding.
The rabbi’s son, Mendel Goldstein, who serves as associate rabbi of the shul, described Gilbert-Kaye as “quite a neshama,” (soul in Hebrew), and as a “pillar of our shul.” He said that she had been with the synagogue through thick and thin, and that her husband never missed a Shabbat. “He is our Kohen.”
“She was committed to the community with her heart, which she put into everything she did,” the younger rabbi Goldstein told The Jerusalem Post. “Everyone knew her as a loving person and always here to help.”
Lisa Busalacchi, her friend since second grade, expressed similar sentiments in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“No one was quite so thoughtful as Gilbert-Kaye,” she said. “It’s not like she gave a million dollars for a building, but if someone was sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do.”
Apropos of nothing, Gilbert-Kaye would drop off gifts at her friends’ homes, Busalacchi said. And she didn’t send one card for a birthday or anniversary, she sent three or four.
“Literally, it was no less than three cards for every occasion,” Busalacchi said.
Rare was the Friday night that the Kayes did not have Shabbat guests – often there were 10 or more people at their table. She would invite friends to the family’s sukkah on Sukkot, and host to break the fast after Yom Kippur. She made her own challah, and recently forwarded a Passover carrot kugel recipe to Busalacchi.
Gilbert-Kaye loved to garden – “We’re talking eight different kinds of lettuce and five different kinds of tomatoes” – and to talk politics, her friend recalled.
“She was a devout [US President Donald] Trump supporter,” Busalacchi said. “When he was running for office, she would toast” the then-presidential candidate, “and after he won, she would toast to that.”
On her 60th birthday, Gilbert-Kaye posted on Facebook that she was “Fearless at 60! As I enter a new decade, I am full of ‘gratitude’ & thankfulness for the many blessings in my life.”
“As I said on my 40th & 50th birthdays,” she continued, “life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Ilanit Chernick and JTA contributed to this report.