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A Daughter Who Lost Her Mother In Hate Crime Works In Her Memory To Shine A Light On Antisemitism

Two women stand behind a podium at an event sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Hannah Jaqueline Kaye and her aunt Randi Grossman speak out against antisemitism in Los Angeles, following a spike in hate crimes in LA County 2021. Hannah's mother and Randy's sister, Lori, was killed by a gunman in 2019 at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego.
(Courtesy Hannah Jaqueline Kaye
/
LAist)
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On the last day of Passover in 2019, Hannah Jaqueline Kaye accompanied her mother to synagogue at Chabad of Poway near San Diego. Kaye’s mother wanted her there to recite a special Hebrew prayer of mourning, called Yizkor, which means "remember.”

“My mother had lost her mother in October of 2018,” said Kaye, who was 22 at the time. “This was the first time that she was going to be able to say Yizkor at the synagogue.”

Soon after they arrived, while Kaye was in the room where the prayers were being held and her mother was in the foyer greeting worshippers, a gunman entered the building and opened fire.

A family friend immediately threw her body on top of Kaye’s, she recalled. Though she could not see her mother, she knew in that moment her mother, Lori Gilbert Kaye, had been murdered.

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A mother and daughter pose on a balcony in front of the sea
Lori Gilbert Kaye and her daughter, Hannah Jaqueline Kaye. Lori was killed by a gunman at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover in 2019.
(Courtesy Hannah Jaqueline Kaye)

“I knew in my heart and spirit that she had been shot,” she said. “She was killed instantly.”

Growing up, Kaye remembers learning about antisemitism as it fit into the past, she said. But it wasn’t until the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 — exactly six months before her mother’s murder — that she became painfully aware of its presence today.

“There was a sense of innocence that I navigated the world through,” she recalled. “I had a sort of naiveté.”

Any remnants of that innocence, she said, are now gone. Her mother’s murder reinforced the heart-wrenching reckoning that antisemitism is an ever-present reality for the Jews of today.

“It was earth-shattering and a shock to my entire self,” she said. “But at the same time I wasn't surprised because the rise of antisemitism is a real life thing."

Rising Rates Of Antisemitic Hate Crimes

For years, rates of antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 saw a 34% increase in one year in reported incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism — an average of more than seven incidents per day. It’s the highest number on record for any year since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents more than 40 years ago. In Los Angeles County, antisemitic incidents increased by 29%.

Lori Kaye’s murder is part of an alarming upswing of antisemitic hate crimes at synagogues worldwide in recent years.

  • In 2018, a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • In 2019, two worshippers were fatally shot and two injured at the Halle synagogue in Germany
  • Earlier this year in Colleyville, Texas, four worshippers were held hostage in the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.

This streak also includes thousands of smaller reported incidents of vandalization, violence and harassment.
“We’re seeing an environment where antisemitism has been normalized and is increasing,” said Jeffrey Abrams, the Los Angeles regional director of the ADL. “That’s unfortunately the moment we’re in right now.”

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These troubling statistics, along with an onslaught of hateful rhetoric on social media from high-profile celebrities, have cast antisemitism into the spotlight.

A Push For Solutions

More than a dozen people pose for a photo with the mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, at the center
Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass joins other political and faith leaders to speak out against antisemitism at the Shine A Light event downtown.
(Courtesy The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles )

This Hanukkah, faith and political leaders around the country are gathering to talk about solutions.

Last week, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held its second annual Shine A Light event at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. The international campaign is meant to unite the Jewish community and its allies to stand “as one powerful voice against antisemitism” throughout the month of December, according to The Jewish Federation. Los Angeles officials like mayor Karen Bass, faith leaders and others personally affected by antisemitism, spoke at the event.

"As we approach the start of Hanukkah on Sunday, which kicks off the whole holiday season this year, I hope all of Los Angeles will join me in seeking to build a city filled with love, acceptance and belonging and community where neighbors come out for one another and where strangers help each other out," Bass said.

If there's hate spewed at one group, there's hate spewed at all groups.
— Randi Grossman

Kaye and her aunt, Randi Grossman, Lori Kaye’s younger sister, were also among the speakers at the event.

“We were honored to be invited to this event because it is all about bringing people from all walks of life together to say: “This is our problem. This isn't a Jewish problem,” Grossman said, adding, “If there's hate spewed at one group, there's hate spewed at all groups.”

This recent increase in antisemitism is also in line with a broader uptick in hate crimes in recent years, both in L.A.County and nationwide. A report published this month by the L.A. County Commission of Human Relations showed that hate crimes here reached the highest level in almost two decades, increasing 23% over the last year to 786 incidents. Religious crimes spiked nearly 30%, with about three quarters of them targeted at Jewish people.

“What we often see is that antisemitism is not given the same degree of attention just as it has been appropriately given to other groups in recent years,” Abrams said.

Outside of practical, immediate needs like heightened security at Jewish institutions, the ADL believes the ultimate solution is education, Abrams said. For students, the ADL developed a program with the U.S. Holocaust museum to cover history, as well as a one-hour, online curriculum about the Jewish experience. Curriculum like this, along with more events for the public like “Shine A Light,” are needed to provide a deeper understanding of Jewish life, he said.

“All different forms of hatred are based on some fundamental misperceptions,” Abrams said. “We need to make sure that we all understand in part what the Jewish American experience is.”

A Path Forward

Though she has suffered such an extraordinary loss, Grossman, Lori’s sister, is heartened by events like Shine A Light that provide “an opportunity to come together and not just talk about the darkness, but talk about the message of we're going forward,” she said. “Our elected officials have to speak out when there's any form of hate.”

I really want to emphasize that it's been the humanity of other people in this world that has helped me to survive. My family never once abandoned me in my suffering.
— Hannah Jaqueline Kaye

As for Kaye, she is adjusting to a life that is marked by an ever-growing grief, she said. While she’s found ways to cope — mostly through the support of her family, particularly her aunt Randi, she said — the weight of the tragedy is still “beyond language.”

“It’s moment to moment,” she said. “I really want to emphasize that it's been the humanity of other people in this world that has helped me to survive. My family never once abandoned me in my suffering.”

But the tragedy has also propelled her into a life of deeper meaning than she could have ever imagined, she said.

She recalls moments after the shooting, she felt that her mother had delivered her to her purpose: to be of service for other survivors of gun violence and hate-based crimes, those who have also suffered the “unfathomable.”

“My mother’s legacy is within me,” she said. “I hope in my lifetime I can actualize that...for my mother.”

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