Print | Email Reflecting on Mumbai

Honouring those who died

by: Rabbi Eli Pink - Last updated: 2008-12-01

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg


Rabbi and wife die Fears for rabbi and wife Fears for family

Rabbi Eli Pink of the Lubavitch Centre of Leeds writes of his feelings of what happened in Mumbai and how best to remember the lives of those who were murdered by terrorists including Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.

The past few days have been difficult. Pinned to any scrap of news coming out of Mumbai, praying, saying psalms and simultaneously trying to go on with life. When hope for a miracle was dashed right before Shabbos, numbness set in. Sure, life had to go on, a Shabbos meal had to be eaten and a guest hosted, but it took a lot to shlep myself to shul on Friday night. I dealt with the news in my way, trying not to think about it, hoping that it would go away, that there could still be some miracle. Call it denial, call it withdrawal, call it trying to not to mourn on Shabbos.
After Shabbos there was the world and its news to face. Numerous emails from fellow Chabad Rabbis around the world trying to make sense of this madness. What does this mean for us? For our mission? On Friday I had heard from two people here in Leeds who had enjoyed the Holtzberg's hospitality in the past weeks and eaten at their Shabbos table. One told how Mrs Holtzberg had sat and translated proceedings at the meal into English as most of the guests had spoken Hebrew. Another told how after eating two Shabbos meals in the Chabad Centre they had taken a walk and been too tired to return for Seuda Shlishit. Mrs Holtzberg had sent food to their hotel after Shabbos. Simple acts of love for a fellow Jew. In 1992 , when asked by a CNN reporter what still needed to be done to bring Moshiach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe replied, 'to do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness.' Who was doing goodness and kindness if not the Holtzbergs?

When people billed the Gulf War of 1991 as the Gag and Magog encounter that would precede the coming of the Moshiach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe responded that we had endured enough suffering in the Holocaust and we need not suffer another war before the Moshiach. When a Holocaust survivor died in the Crown Heights riots in 1991, the Rebbe stormed the Heavens, 'there is no logical reason that Moshiach is not here yet,' he said. Since then there has been more suffering, death and destruction that Jews and the wider world have experienced in their personal lives and on a global scale. What is G-d waiting for? It sounds trite talking about Moshiach at a time like this, but do we have any better alternatives? Is giving up really an option?
Trying to make sense of this tragic event is beyond me. I am not G-d's spokesperson and I do not intend to be His defence attorney. The Torah recounts the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest. We are told 'vayidom Aaron,' Aaron remained silent. At times like this, there are no words of explanation, no words of defence. Our entire belief system is rocked.

And yet in the chaos there is hope. Little Moshe Holtzberg, who celebrated his second birthday on Shabbos without his parents to hold him, who will please G-d celebrate his barmitzvah on his parents yarhtzeit, was heroically rescued by his nanny, Sandra Samuel. Our gratitude goes out to her. G-d's hand was clearly at work in plucking him out of the insane madness that the Mumbai Chabad Centre had become. Among the pictures of the desecration of the Chabad Centre, the Israeli website, Ynet, showed an undamaged picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as if the Rebbe was encouraging us to put aside the doubts and worries and continue with our work.

In 1956 a school in Kfar Chabad, the village that is Lubavitch Headquarters in Israel was attacked. Five young children and their teacher were killed while praying the morning prayers. The village was plunged into darkness and depression. The pioneers of this fledgling village did not know how to go on. They wanted to close down the school. They had escaped pogroms and communism for this? Their answer came in a succinct three word telegram from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 'Behemshech habinyan tinachaymu, - through continued building you will be comforted.'

In this week's Torah portion we read how Yaakov had fled from his brother Eisav. Pursued by Esav's son, he was threatened with death and robbed of everything. And yet Yaakov went on. He built a family, established twelve tribes, and was the third foundation of the Jewish nation.

We must go on and we must continue to grow. The Chabad-Lubavitch response? As you read this, a young Chabad family is packing their bags to establish a new Chabad centre in Bangalore, India. What can we all do? We can take on extra mitzvot in memory of the Holtzbergs and the other martyrs. Light the Shabbos candles for Rivky's that will not be lit again. Put on tefilin for Gabi's that lie unused. Keep kosher more carefully in honour of Leibush Teitelbaum and Benzion Kroman, two kashrut supervisors who had gone to supervise a factory in Mumbai, stopped in the Chabad Centre for evening services, and ended up paying the ultimate price for the sake of kosher. Or attend a Jewish study session in honour of Gabi, Leibush and Benzion killed in the midst of learning some Talmud. Or any other mitzvah that we feel we could grow in.

Let us start a chain of goodness that will light up the world with G-dly light. Because that is what Gabi and Rivky would want us to do. Because that is how we defeat the terrorists. And because that is how we will bring an end to all sorrow and suffering with the coming of Moshiach now!