Several local Chabad rabbis are feeling a profound personal sadness following last week’s terrorist attack on the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai, India, which left six dead, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah.
Chabad Lubavitch of Pittsburgh, in conjunction with the United Jewish Federation, held a memorial service for the victims Wednesday night at the Lubavitch Center on Wightman Street. The program included some words about the Holtzbergs, as well as a video of the young couple.
The Holtzbergs had been in Mumbai, serving the small Jewish community there, as well as Jewish tourists and business people passing through. A 2-year-old son, Moshe, who was rescued from the attacks by a nanny, and another son, who is suffering from Tay-Sachs disease in Israel, survive their parents.
Rabbi Meir Shur, who teaches here in the Yeshiva School, knew Gavriel when they were both students in New York.
“I learned with him in Yeshiva,” said Shur. “He was in the class on top of me, but we bumped into each other from time to time. What made him distinct is that you’d want to stop to talk to him. He was a genuine type of person. When he asked how you were doing, it was a real question for him. He loved people.”
Shur said that he felt the impact of the Holtzbergs’ death on a personal level because of his relationship with Gavriel.
“You definitely feel it hits you much more, in closer range, when it’s a friend,” Shur said
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Pittsburgh, said that he knows the couple’s extended family, and equated their death to losing “a brother and a sister.”
“It’s really tragic, globally and personally,” said Rosenfeld. “We are all in this to bring goodness and kindness to the world in every way possible. This attack was an attack on anyone who values peace and goodness. For all mankind, this was a dark day.”
Although Rabbi Mendy Rosenblum did not know the Holtzbergs well, he, too, felt connected to them through familial relationships.
“He [Gavriel] was a classmate of my brother-in-law’s,” said Rosenblum. “There are so many connections through my family. I felt very personally about it.”
Despite future potential dangers in Mumbai, Chabad is already planning to dispatch new shluchim, or emissaries, to the city.
Rosenblum explained that in 1956, following the murder of students and teachers in a Chabad school in Russia, the Lubavitcher rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was asked if his followers should abandon their efforts in that territory.
The rebbe responded with three Hebrew words, said Rosenblum, which translated to, “When you continue building, you will be comforted.”
“This is the Jewish answer and Chabad’s answer,” Rosenblum said. “There is no way any terrorist can change our plans.”
Rosenfeld agreed. After a tragedy like this, he said, “we always re-double our efforts in every way possible.”
Rivkah Holtzberg’s parents have already requested to be sent to Mumbai to continue the work of their children, Rosenfeld said. “They felt that this is where the orphan should be, and would want to be, to take over the efforts of his parents.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)