Rabbi Gil Leeds and UC Berkeley students do mitzvot to honor Poway shooting victim.
Rabbi Gil Leeds and UC Berkeley students do mitzvot to honor Poway shooting victim.

‘We’re all family’: Jews seek comfort at Berkeley Chabad

At the Berkeley home of Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Ferris, the mood was contemplative but spirits were undimmed. It was only one day after the April 28 shooting at Chabad in Poway, which claimed one life and injured three, and Ferris had opened his doors to friends and neighbors in need of comfort and community.

His message was strong.

“How we respond to anti-Semitism is that we confront it head-on, not by cowering,” Ferris said, adding that whenever Jews are persecuted they must not hide or assimilate for protection. “We need to be more conspicuously Jewish,” said the rabbi, who did just that when he was interviewed on local TV station KTVU in response to the shooting.

That Sunday afternoon, around 15 people gathered in his home to hear him speak on how to react to the Poway shooting, to join in prayer and to watch a video of the press conference where Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein described, step by step, the horror-filled moments of the brutal attack, which came during Shabbat services. Goldstein was one of the injured — two of his fingers were shot off, although one was reattached later in surgery.

Ferris said that people had been asking him if he knew Goldstein. Yes — and Goldstein’s brother had been his teacher in yeshiva. But he added that connections in the tight-knit Chabad community run deeper than that. “We’re all family,” he said. “And it’s like I got shot in the hand.”

As people filtered in through the open front door of the Ferris’ home, Rebbetzin Miriam Ferris said everyone was feeling vulnerable, and coming together was important.

“I think the people are looking for comfort, looking for meaning, looking for strength,” she said.

The couple said they have been receiving expressions of support from the non-Jewish community, as well. “People have been coming,” Ferris said. “The police, neighbors. They want to show that this is not them, this is not America.”

One of the people at the Ferris house that evening was Linda Strauss, who had known shooting victim Lori Gilbert-Kaye, the sole fatality in the Poway tragedy. Strauss called Kaye the Poway Chabad synagogue’s “unofficial greeter,” someone who was always smiling. “Lori Kaye was a respected and loving woman,” she said.

And although guest Barry Barkin of the Aquarian Minyan spoke of the sadness in people’s hearts, the evening was leavened with humor, humility and a sense of responsibility. “We have to first get rid of the hatred in our hearts, and from there to work in concentric circles outward,” Ferris said.

On Monday, Rabbi Gil Leeds of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at UC Berkeley took to the university’s Sproul Plaza. While he regularly participates in the Chabad activity of encouraging men to put on tefillin and handing out Shabbat candles to women, today’s mitzvah event was held in honor of Kaye.

“There will be one Jewish lady who won’t be lighting candles this week,” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.