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Tragedy in Mumbai

Tragedy in Mumbai

Words may fail us, but actions cannot.


Click here to see related film: Responding to Mumbai

At times like this, words fail us. We are struck silent by the sheer barbarism and scope of the tragedy: the cold blooded murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg -- a young couple who left behind all of the creature comforts of life in the West to go and help other Jews -- four other Jews shot dead inside the Chabad House, another 169 people killed, and 240 wounded.

I personally benefited from the self-sacrifice of the Holtzbergs. In 2003, they moved to Mumbai, giving up the comforts of the West in order to spread some light in one corner of the world. They purchased and renovated the building formerly known as the Nariman House into a beautiful five-story hotel, full of rooms for guests, dining rooms, and large pantries to hold all the kosher foodstuffs necessary to feed the multitude of visitors each week. The Chabad House was a glowing beacon of holiness in a city filled with poverty and starvation.

A few months ago, I left my family behind to travel to India to carry out fieldwork and research. Long before I stepped onto the airplane, I knew I'd be in good hands -- friends contacted the Holtzbergs to ensure that I would have a place to connect with other Jews, pray, and have a warm, home-cooked meal.

During my month-long stay in India, I met Sandra Samuel, the helper and nanny for the Chabad in Mumbai for several years. Sandra overcame the natural instinct of self preservation and re-entered an upper floor of the Chabad House to rescue Moshe, the Holtzberg's 2-year-old son. She later recalled, "I just grabbed the baby and ran out."

The baby became an orphan in blood-soaked clothes.

I doubt that many of us would be able to look past our own selfish desire to save ourselves and put ourselves in harm's way. She is one of no doubt many quiet heroes who have emerged at these horrendous times.

The Holtzbergs made sure that all of us felt welcomed and comfortable. Most of all, they helped us to feel Jewish.

Every night that I visited the Chabad House, the place was packed with Jews from around the world who had come to Mumbai. Some were Israelis looking for a chance to relax after an intense tour in the Israeli army; others were businessmen seeking to cut deals with the well-known textile merchants nearby. Some were tourists looking to experience the local Indian Jewish community known as the Bnei Israel. The Holtzbergs made sure that all of us felt welcomed and comfortable.

Rabbi Holtzberg was a Torah scholar and trained as a mohel and shochet. Together with his wife they ran a synagogue, taught Torah classes, counseled drug addicts, and fought the poverty they saw all around.

Most of all, they helped us to feel Jewish. Even those soldiers who had long ago stopped attending synagogue wiped back a tear as we sang "Shalom Aleichem" around the Shabbat table.

Moving Forward

This is not the first time that a Chabad rabbi has been cut down by a terrorist. Back in the 1950s, a rabbi and four students were killed in the Israeli village known as Kfar Chabad. These residents had arrived from Europe, leaving a land decimated by the Holocaust to rebuild a new Jewish society in the miniscule land of Israel. After their death, many of their friends felt the hopelessness and despair we feel now.

It is said that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent a telegram to the survivors of the attack that had only three Hebrew words: B'hemshech habinyan tenu'chamu -- "You will feel comfort through continuing to build."

And that is the message for us today: Continue to build. Do not give up. Do not let hate or a desire for vengeance blind us to the positive impact that all of us can have.

Because if we become afraid, immobilized, hesitant, then we've handed the terrorists a victory.

Words may fail us, but actions cannot. The Jewish community has already come together over this issue; thousands of emails, blogs, and websites have called upon Jews around the world to say Psalms, give charity, and do acts of kindness. On online bulletin boards where tempers can too often flare, arguments were quickly shelved and cooperation ensued.

We can all put our grief, our disbelief, our desire to do something into action -- and we must do it quickly.

We can all put our grief, our disbelief, our desire to do something into action -- and we must do it quickly. Send money to a Jewish cause. Spend some time telling your parents, children, and friends how much you love them and care for them. See what positive things you can do for an ailing neighbor or a depressed friend.

We are at war with many enemies, those who seek to turn our planet to darkness. The Holtzberg's were on the front lines of dispelling that darkness, putting the beauty of Judaism against loneliness and despair. For many of the backpackers and visitors, coming into contact with the joy and love extended by Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg gave them their chance to embrace their Jewish heritage.

They were struck down in the line of duty. So in their memory, learn about the beautiful Jewish heritage they sought to spread. And share it with others.

View a video by Chana Weisberg: "Senseless Love - How to Combat Absolute Evil"

In the comment section below, share your thoughts and condolences, which will be forwarded to the families of those who perished in the Chabad House of Mumbai.

November 29, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 268

(268) Fawzia Usman, January 2, 2009 6:17 AM

I grieve for the Jews in Mumbai

I'm an Hindu Indian girl, the daughter of a Muslim father and a Hindu mother and I'm as horrified and saddened by this tragedy as Jews' are, probably more as far more Indians were killed.The tale of the Jews' in Christian Europe somewhat reminds me of the Hindus in the Indian sub continent. Just as the Jews were tormented by the Christians for being (supposedly) "Christ killers" the Hindus were tormented for being idolaters by the Muslims. India has done everything in its power to keep the Muslims placated, but to no avail. While Jews got back their ancestral land Israel after two millennia, the Hindus gave up large portions of their land to Muslims to make their Muslim nation Pakistan, while India remained secular.In our country remembering the Hindus killed by iconoclastic Muslims or the Hindu religious sites destroyed by fanatic Muslims is greatly discouraged,if not punished so Hindus do their own Holocaust denial. I find the Jews the nicest of the Abrahamic faiths,and the smartest given their Nobel Prizes!Islam of course is the exact opposite. A Jew Jonas Salk invented the Polio Vaccine, while many Muslims in India claimed that it was a Western Ploy(sic) to reduce their birthrates! India has suffered numerous bombings by Muslims every year and yet we do nothing. Hopefully, this latest and greatest tragedy will lead us to pick up a few lessons from the Jews in Israel who so bravely protect their homeland, their faith and the security of their citizens. Just for those who don't know this, Jews have lived safely in India for more than two millennia, and many historians say they arrived in India the very year their temple was destroyed by the Romans,and unlike the Jewish experience in Christian Europe or Muslim nations, in India they have never suffered any Anti Semitism at the hands of Hindus. To Carl Sandberg and Rosen, maybe I'm biased due to my very tolerant Muslim father but as a Non Muslim\Non Jew,who's read both the Koran and the Torah- many, maybe even most Muslims accept those Koranic verses against Jews and others as pertaining to a particular situation ie Mohammed's wars on those who supposedly threatened him, and not as orders to kill for all time.Jews accept many verses in the Torah too as no longer applicable and quite a few Muslims do the same. Anyway my deepest condolences.

(267) Vashi Ram Chandi, December 10, 2008 4:08 AM

May you always feel loved. --- Copyright © 1987 Sandra Sturtz Hauss

May you find serenity and tranquility in a world You may not always understand. May the pain you have known and conflict you have experienced Give you the strength to walk through life Facing each new situation with courage and optimism. Always know that there are those whose love and understanding Will always be there, even when you feel most alone. May you discover enough goodness in others To believe in a world of peace. May a kind word, a reassuring touch, a warm smile be yours Every day of your life, And may you give these gifts as well as receive them. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who know hate, And let that love embrace you as you go into the world. May the teaching of those you admire become part of you, So that you may call upon them. Remember, those whose lives you have touched And who have touched yours are always a part of you, Even if the encounters were less than you would have wished. It is the content of the encounter that is more important than it's form. May you not become too concerned with material matters, But instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time in each day to see the beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that each person has limitless abilities, But each of us is different in our own way. What you may feel you lack in one regard May be more than compensated for in another. What you feel you lack in the present May become one of your strengths in the future. May you see your future as one filled with promise and possibility. Learn to view everything as a worthwhile experience. May you find enough inner strength to determine your own worth by yourself, And not be dependent on another's judgement of your accomplishments. May you always feel loved. --- Copyright © 1987 Sandra Sturtz Hauss

(266) leejgd, December 9, 2008 7:30 AM

Hello sir, I came across this article when i searched about RABBI(a word which i came to know after the mumbai terror attacks). I deeply regret the killings of the rabbi, his wife & other jews. U have mentioned about Mumbai city in your article as "The Chabad House was a glowing beacon of holiness in a city filled with poverty and starvation." I would like to say that u dont have enough information before writing like this about the city. I am an indian & i am hurt by your comment. Mumbai is called the Financial capital of india. I agree there is poverty but not filled with poverty as u hav mentioned. Poverty is such a prelevent condition today in world & every country has poverty & are trying to eradicate it, but to tell that a city like mumbai is filled with poverty and starvation is gross injustice.. Mumbai probably houses some of the richest people in india & the world too..

(265) Dana, December 8, 2008 3:55 PM

All of Klal Yisrael grieves with the families of the victims of the Mumbai tragedy. HaMakom yenachem eschem besoch shaar avlei tzion v'yerushalaim and may you and all of Am Yisrael not know of any more Tsa'ar.

(264) E. R. Grunwald, December 7, 2008 10:55 AM

we are our brothers keepers

Today there were 6 Jewish Hostages killed in cold blood In the Mumbai’s Chabad Jewish Center, a place filled with love The brutal murder of Gabriel Noah Holtzberg and his young wife, Rivka. Their 2 year old Son orphaned right before his birthday, Moshe. We all feel their suffering. Our lives are created to bring out something beautiful to this world, a legacy to be left Rabbi’s who cared for spiritual children, They spread that light Digging holy wells in the old Bombay. The Holzberg’s were doing Abraham’s life efforts, Welcoming weary guests with a lasting memories and Shabbat sweetness They fed my husband when he was alone in a foreign land. My tears will not stop. Two strikes for the terrorists. Afghanistan’s Opium trade goes to the Taliban 100 Million last year. Tell me world, are you oblivious? Iran has enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb, One Holy Jihad weapon! Will we and all the terrorists “get to heaven” in one big mushroom cloud? A pigs head on a Cemetery Gate with the English words “6 Million Lies.” Circumcision is proposed to be banned in Denmark. In Belgium this week the public broadcast channel had to cancel “Adolf Hitler’s Favorite Meal”! We must continue the light to reach out to the world, spread goodness and kindness. To love our brothers in our sect and all others, the only way to combat this unbridaled hate. We are all one nation, we are all one tribe. We fight hate and terror with common decency and righteousness. Through love, prayer, smiles and taking care of others. The world’s attention all focuses on these amazing people whose lives were lost. Let their mitzvot and loving kindness not be for naught!

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