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Chabad keeps hope alight in the darkness

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The shots that killed Lori Kaye in San Diego’s Chabad of Poway on April 27 were felt on the other side of the country as well, in Merrick’s and Bellmore’s Jewish communities.

Members of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, which serves Merrick, Bellmore and Wantagh, gathered at the Merrick-based center last week to mourn as one. While their Cooking for Hope event, on May 1, and a Shabbat candle lighting, on May 3, were somber affairs, hope still shone in the South Shore Jewish community.

The attack left Kaye, 60, dead, and Almog Peretz, his 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, and the Chabad’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, injured. A 19-year-old entered the temple and allegedly opened fire with an assault-style weapon.

Via video chat during the May 1 memorial, Mendy Rubenfeld, the Chabad of Poway’s assistant rabbi and children’s director, offered messages of solidarity during a time of fear, with anti-Semitic acts of violence and intimidation on the rise in the United States. From the location where bullets flew just days prior, Rubenfeld reflected on the lost congregant. “Lori squeezed so much out of life,” Rubenfeld said. “She lived twice the life of an average person.”

Rubenfeld recalled visiting Kaye’s home after her death and being greeted by Jewish memorabilia and framed quotes, testaments to her deep faith. One, which defined Kaye’s outlook, stood out to Rubenfeld. “Life is not about the amount of breaths you take,” he told the room of teenagers and adults, “it’s about the amount of moments that take your breath away.”

Talking about tragedies with young children and teenagers, such as the shooting, is challenging, Rubenfeld said, and the message must be blunt: “The world is not perfect, yet the resolve must be even stronger,” he said. “The world is improving.”

The Chabad of Poway’s leaders’ response has been to stand taller than those who would wish Jews harm. “Never before was a country founded on the ideals that all people are created in God’s image and that all people deserve freedom and liberty,” Goldstein, reflecting on the United States, wrote at the conclusion of an opinion piece published in The New York Times. “We fought a war to make that promise real. And I believe we can make it real again. That is what I pledge to do with my borrowed time.”

Their leadership has led to similar confidence in their congregation, Rubenfeld said. The Poway Chabad’s preschool opened three days after the attack, and every student attended. Peretz, 34, who was shot in the leg and continued to usher children to safety, was back at the Chabad during the call.

“They know that we’re not alone,” Rubenfeld said.

He also noted that in addition to security increases, the temple will also open up more frequently, giving the Poway community time to grieve.

On Long Island, congregants joined efforts for the Chabad’s Cooking for Hope initiative, a program in which members cook meals for people in need, according to Rabbi Shimon Kramer. The donations reach community members suffering from illness who cannot provide for themselves.

On May 3, a Shabbat candle-lighting ceremony was held to honor Kaye. Dozens of congregants were in attendance, lighting candles, sharing prayers and posting positive messages.

At the evenings’ close, Kramer led the groups in a final, unified prayer. “Coming together helps people cope with the loss,” he said, adding that “we will not duck — we are not going to hide; we are going to stand up for ourselves and be proud.”

Everyone feels the aftermath of such a tragedy, he added.