While visiting the Aish HaTorah branch in San Diego this month, I had the opportunity to visit Chabad of Poway, the shul where an anti-Semitic madman murdered one of our sisters, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, in April.
When I arrived at the synagogue at 7 a.m. for morning prayers, two things struck me right away. First, there was an armed guard at the door who searched my tefillin (phylacteries). There had never been a guard there before, and it reminded me of the synagogues I attend in Europe.
Second, I found myself walking into the building with a pit in my stomach similar to the one I feel when walking into a concentration camp. Here was a place where Jewish blood had been spilled.
We are on the front lines of a spiritual battle, and the key to victory is embracing our Judaism more than ever.
Towards the end of the service, I noticed that among the mourners saying Kaddish was Dr. Howard Kaye. I waited until the end, and approached him to offer my condolences and those of the entire Aish family. I quickly realized that I had found a new mentor and role model.
Dr. Kaye immediately told me that he knew Aish through our website, as he used it to complement his Torah learning. We then sat and spoke for an hour about Torah and about the Almighty.
He wanted me to understand and relay to the world his message about how important Torah study is in his life and how it is helping him through the living nightmare of losing his wife. I was so moved that I asked him if I could film him delivering his message, because I knew there would be no way I could articulate it with the passion he possesses.
Here is that clip:
As I was leaving, Dr. Kaye gave me a warm hug and said he wanted to give me a check for charity to support Aish HaTorah. I was astonished. I had come to Poway to comfort him, and in the end, he comforted me. His strength, faith and resilience were truly of biblical proportions. This is something our enemies have never understood.
And make no mistake, we have enemies.
The Jews are being attacked from all sides. Our enemies hide behind many masks, such as intersectionality, the BDS movement, anti-Israel sentiment and media bias. We live in a time where Jews are being cast as immoral and uncaring. The campuses that we send our children to have become vile communities of hate aimed at Jewish young people.
We cannot let anti-Semitism define who we are. Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people introduced basic human values—respect for life, morality and justice—into the world, and that Jewish wisdom permeates the civilized world today.
We must continue to fight the darkness by lighting up our nation with Torah wisdom. We are on the front lines of a spiritual battle, and the key to victory is uniting and embracing our Judaism more than ever, and showing the world who we truly are. We are one nation with one universal message, that of Hillel the Elder:
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to others: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; now go study!”
Each and every one of us has a unique ability to be part of this fight. How will you fight darkness with light? Aish HaTorah is dedicated to “lighting up our nation” and helping every Jew find their unique strength in this battle—in Jerusalem, online and all around the globe.
We Jews must stand with each other and the Almighty no matter what they try to do to us. May the Almighty bless all of us with the strength and passion of my new hero, Dr. Howard Kaye.
Rabbi Steven Burg is director of Aish HaTorah.