The Love of My Life Was Killed for Being a Jew. Now, I'm Fighting to Prevent the Next Poway | Opinion

It has been nearly three months since that Passover day when Lori, the love of my life, was cut down by a gunman's bullets. As the calls for help came from the lobby that fateful morning, I rushed from the sanctuary and saw a woman grievously injured, and my lifesaving training kicked in. It was not until after long minutes of trying to breathe life back into the woman's inert body that I realized she was my wife, my Lori. In shock, I passed out.

Ever since, my wounds have been open and raw, the pain indescribable. I've chosen to remain silent. But as the world marks 25 years since the death of the great sage Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, a man whose teachings guide me on the path towards healing, I feel an urgency to speak out.

Throughout the searing agony of Lori's funeral, the ensuing shiva (Judaism's seven-day mourning period), and the many long, unbearable days and weeks that followed, one central teaching of the Rebbe has kept me going, motivating me to keep telling myself: "I was placed in this unfathomably challenging situation for a purpose and I've been given the strength to overcome it."

Not many know that Lori came to synagogue that morning to pray for the soul of her mother, who had passed not long before. Throughout her own grieving, she sought solace in the Rebbe's teachings on coping with loss. Lori was an avid reader. The very last book she bought before her brutal murder was A Time to Heal: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Response to Loss and Tragedy. She never had a chance to read it.

As I work toward solace and healing through long days and lonely evenings, I find myself reaching for Lori's book, still on her nightstand. Even in death, my loving, caring Lori anticipated my needs and prepared these comforting teachings. It's almost as if she's reading them by my side.

"While Judaism does not provide explanations for such tragedy," the Rebbe taught, "it does have a response." He urged that our response to humanly-inflicted tragedies be to take concrete steps to improve the moral state of society, to uproot the underlying causes of such moral depravity.

In trying to understand the root cause of the atrocity that took Lori's life and, even more urgently, in seeking to prevent the next Poway from occurring, it became clear to me that Lori's killer was motivated by anti-Semitic hatred. His was a convoluted and reprehensible mindset that perverted his morality and convinced him that some people were worthy of life — and others were not.

My wife, Lori, was the kindest, gentlest person I've ever known. I often felt she may have been one of the 36 righteous people that Jewish tradition teaches uphold the world. To the shooter, though, she was simply a Jew, and her life thus unworthy and abhorrent.

To stop the next shooter, we need to educate the world about its inherent moral compass. We need to share with all people the Seven Noahide Laws, the universal code of ethics predicated on the appreciation of a Supreme Being in whose image we have each been created, who cherishes each of our lives dearly, and to whom we are each beholden and responsible.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye
Flowers, candles and mementos are left outside the funeral for Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue by a gunman who opened fire during services, on April 29, in Poway, California. Mario Tama/Getty

The Rebbe passed on 25 years ago. One of his final campaigns was promoting awareness of this very moral code, which has been the bedrock of society since the dawn of civilization. Sharing it with the world is more relevant now than ever. Each time a murderous, twisted individual commits a crime of hate, the urgency to educate society about the basic laws of human civilization grows. It holds the potential to stop the next atrocity.

Lori lived by these principles, and Lori spread them far and wide. She treated every person with dignity, she recognized in each individual that they are the apple of God's eye, simply because God created them. I don't expect everyone to become the next Lori, to share her unique love and piety. But every human being innately possesses the moral compass to rise above the reprehensible behavior that ended her life. It is our obligation to nurture and educate toward that morality, and to fill this world with goodness and kindness.

Howard Kaye, MD, is a practicing rheumatologist and resides in Poway, California.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.