Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Havoc and Heroes in Mumbai – from Ann in Israel

Rabbi Gavariel and Rivka Holtzberg

Today, with her permission, I am posting a direct quote from Ann Hansen in Israel. When I asked her if I could use her words, this was her reply: "Please feel free to use anything I write, and to use my name. I am passionate about the need for people to see what's happening around the world. In addition, although I didn't know the rabbi and his wife personally, I think that they were truly examples of angels walking on earth, and this would be a good way to honor their lives."

Ann is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in Israel. Here are her thoughts:

"While focus in the US has been on Thanksgiving, and rightly so, I've been more or less glued to the news coming out of India since Wednesday night. I don't think the world will ever be able to comprehend the extent of the evil done there during the past few days. As one expert put it, a group of highly skilled, highly trained, and highly motivated young men filled with hatred went on a killing spree.

"The personal tragedies will never be fully known, except to those who experienced them, of course. Globally, this is yet another chilling reminder of the very real threat that the world is facing, regardless of who you are or where you happen to be. People determined to perpetuate evil will always find a way, and an excuse.

"Terrorist attacks in India are not new, unfortunately. My worry has been how this will affect the situation in Pakistan, which in turn will affect Afghanistan, and so on...like a row of dominoes. Pakistani forces have just finished a two-week campaign intended to damage the Taliban forces in the northwest of Pakistan. The country has a new government and is very unstable anyway. If Pakistan collapses, the entire region will go up in flames. Pakistan and India have been at war since both countries were created in 1948. The fact that most of the terrorists who committed the attacks in Mumbai [last] week are of Pakistani origin will pour fuel on the flames of an already tense situation. The attacks are also more proof of the extent and organization of the terrorist organizations who are operating in that area.

"On a more personal note, the Nariman House, which was in the news, was the Mumbai chapter of Chabad. Chabad-Lubavitchers are a stream of orthodox Jewry who are known for their charitable works and outreach programs. Ultimately they would like all Jews to return to the fold, as it were, but the function of a "Chabad House" is to provide a home for any Jew anywhere in the world. There are literally thousands of Chabad centers around the world. For example, while on his [LDS] mission, Allen [my son] and his companion attended Passover dinner at the Chabad House in the City in Russia where he lived at the time. The houses are usually staffed by a married couple (a rabbi and his wife) and have an open-door policy. If you are Jewish, no matter how religious you are or aren't, you know you can go there, get a free meal, just sit and feel at home, get help with problems, find refuge, participate in prayers if you choose to do so...whatever you need physically or spiritually. After doing their army service, many Israelis travel around the world for several months (a way to clean out their heads). Their parents know that they can send packages or leave messages at the Chabad Houses along their routes of travel, and their children will receive them when they get there. If Israelis get arrested, the Chabad people are often the ones who are the middlemen, and who provide legal help.

"This particular Chabad House in Mumbai was very well known to the thousands of Israeli backpackers in India. The rabbi was only 30, and his wife was 28. In addition to being warm, friendly people, the rabbi also ran a rehab facility to help Israelis who had become addicted to drugs during their stay in India. One of the Israeli stations yesterday rebroadcast a documentary made two years ago about this couple and the work they were doing. They were such wonderful people...helpful, cheerful and non-judgmental. What was chilling for me was to see in the background [of the documentary] the woman who saved their son [the couple's toddler] this week. The same station also interviewed returning Israelis, who were shocked. One of them had stayed with this family just the day before the attack. He said that everyone knew they had a big brother and sister out there and could be sure of a warm place to sleep and a good meal.

"That this particular place was included among the targets shows the hatred toward Israel and Jews. Unlike the other targets, this was an apartment house in a residential neighborhood, which didn't attract American or British tourists and certainly not rich, high-profile targets. I find it particularly sad that the rabbinit met her death at such an early age in India, of all places. She grew up in the city of Afula, which isn't too far from me. Afula is very close to the border of the Palestinian territories and has long been the target of terrorist attacks. In the late 80's and early 90's in particular, when she would have been in elementary school, Afula suffered  a series of bus bombings, with dozens of civilians killed. That she grew up in a city which was the target of terrorist attacks and went to India to offer selfless service to others, only to be killed herself by terrorists, is tragic. But at the same time it is a symbol of hope. Even though she was surrounded by violence and suffering her entire life, she herself could find joy and a love for mankind, which manifested itself in the service and love she showed to others. It is a lesson we should all take to heart.


Here is some background information about the couple, taken from Haaretz.com:

"Gabriel Holtzberg was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with his parents when he was nine. His wife, born Rivka Rosenberg, was a native of Afula.

"Rabbi Gavariel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory," the Chabad's New York headquarters said in a statement.

"The couple ran the Chabad's Mumbai headquarters. Their toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee on Wednesday, and is now with his maternal grandparents, who arrived from Israel on Thursday. Another son, who was ailing, was in Israel at the time of the attack.

The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small Jewish community there."

We live in a troubled world, but those who choose to rise above the fray and show their humanity are able to lift us all. Apparently, the Holtzbergs were two such people, and they will be missed.

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