The previous Shabbat, they ran from the synagogue, fleeing a gunman’s bullets. This week, they filled it to capacity as Chabad of Poway, Calif., hosted a Shabbat that was at once solemn and joyous. In the days following the horrific shooting that claimed the life of Lori Kaye and injured three others, the rabbis and rebbetzins of Chabad of Poway rallied to the call of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, himself grievously injured in the attack. Goldstein called on every Jew to fill synagogues and do a mitzvah for Poway, responding to darkness with light.

In Poway, it would be their biggest Shabbat ever.

“There was a certain blessing that was prevalent throughout Shabbat,” said Rabbi Mendy Rubenfeld, Chabad of Poway’s youth director. “Something that made everything go right.”

In just days, a Shabbat that would see 600 join services and 300 sit down to Friday-night dinner was organized by rabbis and rebbetzins who were simultaneously counseling congregants and themselves recovering from the trauma of the shooting. Their work was made easier by a plethora of willing helping hands, including some 30 players and coaches from the Poway High School Titans football team, who also met with Rabbi Goldstein.

“As busy as he’s been, he came out and spoke to them. It was amazing,” said Rubenfeld. “There’s an energy about him. He’s barely eating or sleeping; he’s still recovering from surgery. Yet while others around him are collapsing from exhaustion, he still going. When he could have been resting, he was talking with people, thanking each one individually.”

Worshippers walked streets lined with people showing their support, holding signs with messages of encouragement in a vigil timed to coincide with Friday evening Shabbat services. They walked down Chabad Way, the roadside thick with bouquets of flowers, the fences covered in posters—a show of solidarity by people from all backgrounds and religions.

“People’s hearts were open when they came,” said Rubenfeld, “and the experience did not let them down.”

Shabbat candles to be lit by the many women and girls who attended services.
Shabbat candles to be lit by the many women and girls who attended services.

Many Worshippers Arrived Early

Many worshippers came early, giving themselves time before Shabbat began to put on tefillin—many for the first time—and to light Shabbat candles in memory of Lori. By the time the sun set on Poway, hundreds of candles shone in front of signs that read, “Lights for Lori” and “Be gLORIous,” the theme of the evening.

The congregation was joined for the weekend by noted author and orator Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who served as the scholar-in-residence, as well as the Rabin Brothers, a cantorial duet whose harmonious melodies added layers of beauty and energy to the Shabbat prayers.

When the congregation reached “Lecha Dodi,” the mystical hymn to the Shabbat, they erupted in songs of hope, optimism and unity—a show of resilience and rebuilding that went on for nearly half an hour: “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together;” “The world is a narrow bridge, the main thing is to have no fear;” “He who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for us.”

Hundreds turned out for a communal dinner.
Hundreds turned out for a communal dinner.

Kiddush followed on the patio, where an enormous 4-foot challah was sliced and distributed. As the visitors who had come to join the service went on their way, 300 community members sat down to Shabbat dinner. Joining Goldstein and Jacobson on the dais was Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, who led the room in an a capella rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

The following day saw another overflow crowd fill the synagogue for Shabbat-morning services. When the ark was opened to take out the Torah, a week exactly after the horrific shooting, Goldstein stood before it, tears streaming down his face, and gave a heart-wrenching cry to G‑d. “You took Lori from us. How much longer must we endure?” Those present said they would never forget that impassioned cry.

It was a Shabbat that incorporated the solemnity of Yom Kippur, the joy of Simchat Torah, and the healing and comfort of Shabbat Nachamu, as Poway united to look back with gravity, and ahead with optimism and determination.

“It was very special,” said Rubenfeld. “Everyone who came will be forever moved by this Shabbat.”