Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rabbi & Mrs. Holtzberg HY"D/Reminiscences

Prof. Isaac Balbin shares his personal memories - must read

In the beginning, Reb Gavriel and Rivki had a choice between Melbourne and Mumbai. They chose Mumbai. Hashem planned that our paths would cross one way or another.

Parshas Toldos in Melbourne, Australia has just concluded. It is a cool and quiet evening. After two days of frantic searching, the information I was dreading reached me via SMS on that morning. One of my colleagues in Mumbai had been sending me updates, as were my past students who had travelled to the Chabad House, at my request. I saw the words “we now pray for their souls, I am sorry” flash up momentarily on my phone only to quickly disappear. It was Shabbos and I couldn’t touch my cell phone. Frankly, I didn’t even want to. Instinctively, I knew what had happened—a nightmare on Hormusji Street [...]


  1. Similarly moving article at by someone who knew the Holtzberg's and their work in India and its significance:

    "Tragedy in Mumbai

    by Rabbi Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich

    Words may fail us, but actions cannot.

    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.

    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. 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.

    Author Biography:

    Rabbi Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich received his semicha from Rav Dan Channen, shlita and he is a alumnus of the Darche Noam Yeshiva of Jerusalem. After his house was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, he and his family spent a year living in East Asia. He currently lives with his family in West Lafayette, Indiana where he and his wife Yael work to spread the love of Torah among Purdue University students and the community."

  2. "Rav Kanievsky Shlita: The Victims Atoned for Am Yisrael

    December 1, 2008

    While we do not attempt to understand the way of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we do seek to understand events such as the Mumbai terror in the hope of understanding what we must do, what we must take away from such incidents.

    Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita on motzei Shabbos was asked how could such an event have occurred when we know that a shaliach mitzvah is protected, and in this case, Rav Holtzman and his wife were shlichim, as were Rav Aryeh Leibish Teitlebaum and R’ Bentzion Chroman.

    Rav Kanievsky pulled out a Gemara Shabbos and explained that the Tzaddikim atone for the generation, a kapora for all of us – further stating that what we must take away from this is the reality that we must increase our efforts towards Avodas Hashem and kiyum mitzvos."

    (Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel) from


    "They Were Like Avraham and Sarah

    December 1, 2008

    HaRav HaGaon Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman Shlita, rav of Migdal Ha’emek and head of Mosdos Migdal Ohr tells a bit about his nephew, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg HY”D.

    Rav Grossman:

    When the parents of Rebbitzin Rivka HY”D, Rav Shimon and Frieda Rosenberg arrived at the Mumbai Chabad House and finally permitted to enter, they asked the nanny, Sandra Samuel, to assist them in locating the children’s personal belongings. They were startled to learn that in the entire 5-story building, the young couple had one room with their belongings. The remainder of the building belonged to the Chabad House – to the public.

    They truly gave themselves for the tzibur. It was like the home of Avraham Aveinu. Chazal teach us that Avraham would tend to the men and Sarah the women, and this was the case with the Holtzbergs. They made certain that every guest had everything they needed and in addition, provided for them when they departed. They also referred people to Mosdos Migdal Ohr, trying to continue developing their Jewish neshama. Many visited the Chabad House in Mumbai and the spark was ignited and then they came to Migdal Ha’emek, yearning to develop that spark.

    It is truly difficult to describe the selfless dedication of Rav Gavriel. Every Thursday he would slaughter 200 chickens, proving kosher chicken for those who sought it. He learned schita in Migdal Ha’emek. Even on his last Wednesday he purchased the chickens which he planned to slaughter the following day for the upcoming Shabbos.

    He did not only concern himself with his Bet Chabad, but on Shabbos he would bring a number of people with him to another shul, concerned that the minyan might fall apart without his support. Jews that frequented the Chabad House were encouraged to visit the prisons to speak with Jewish prisoners, to assist them in maintaining a positive attitude.

    His home was open to all. Jews came from near and far, from America, Europe, Australia, and Eretz Yisrael. Rav Gavriel was there to greet them, day or night. He gave them food and drink, words of Torah and inspiration. Sometimes gemara, chumash, words from the Rebbe, or just general topics, but always imparting something for guests to take with them.

    He was a beacon of light that illuminated the darkness – he truly initiated a revolution, bringing back children to the path of Avraham, to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim."

    (Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel) from


    "Mumbai, India - Cries Fill Local Synagogue at Funeral Service of Chabad House Terror Victims

    Published on: December 1st, 2008 at 07:04 AMNews Source: Jpost / VIN News / Indian Express

    Two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg is held by his grandmother Yehudit Rosenberg as grandfather Shimon Rosenberg looks on during a condolence prayer meeting in a synagogueMumbai, India - About 100 odd Jews gathered for a funeral service for the Jewish terror victims held in one of the largest synagogues in Mumbai this morning.

    Rivka Holtzberg's father gave a tearful eulogy for his daughter and her husband, and praised Sandra, the nanny of his grandson, for saving the boy's life.

    "With great resourcefulness Sandra saved the life of my grandson. Had she not [done this] he surely would have been murdered," Shimon Rosenberg told more than the hundred family members and relatives of the victims, as well as members of the local Jewish community who also attended the service.

    The Israeli ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, also spoke during the event.

    "The state of Israel will not sit quietly while Israelis and Jews are massacred just because they are Jews," he said. "We will continue to work with India and with other countries in the world in order to prevent these kind of events from happening in the future."

    "This is a terrible day for India, for Israel, and for the Jewish people, and most importantly, for the families of those who were murdered," Sofer continued. "This is not the time to think about why the international community is not doing enough, or why people get to this level of cruelty. This is the time to think only of the family."

    Meanwhile the two-year-old Moshe, dressed in a bright green T-shirt and blue shorts, was carried into the synagogue to attend the prayer of his parents.

    Holding a ball in hand, Moshe who was orphaned on the day of his birthday kept looking around, probably wanting to see his parents even as his caretaker picked him up in his arms.

    Standing right next to him was his grand-parents who had come all the way from America as soon as they heard about the blast.

    As the prayers started, Moshe could be seen getting fidgety and ended up crying which he stopped only after he was allowed to play.

    As the synagogue echoed with the prayers, sobbing could be heard from all who had come for the prayer meeting. While the ladies present wiped their tears off, men could be seen trying best to hold back their tears.

    "We found the child on the second floor. We had initially thought he was sleeping on the fifth," said the caretaker of Moshe, who was rescued in a dramatic fashion by the cook of the house, Sandra Samuel (44). Samuel had literally pulled off a coup when she, hiding inside one of the rooms after having slammed the door on a terrorist's face, rushed to the second floor after hearing Moshe yelling out her name continuously"."


  3. Everyone has to find what gets them through the night - I've latched on to the R'YBS approach - we don't ask why (or we do but know we can never really understand the answer), we ask what - what does HKB"H want us to do?(which we should be asking all the time anyway)
    On a technical point I would think that shiach hezeika would be the simplest answer in a hypothetical case similar to this one.
    Joel Rich

  4. "Bodies of Mumbai terror victims arrive in Israel

    By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent in Mumbai

    Tue., December 02, 2008 Kislev 5, 5769

    An Israel Air Force plane carrying the remains of six Israelis and Jews who were killed in the attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai last week landed at Ben Gurion Airport late Monday night.

    Four of the bodies, the Holtzbergs, Ben-Zion Korman and Ycheved Orpaz, were draped in prayer shawls and the Israeli flag. The family of one of the victims, Aryeh Leibish Teitelboim, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who had given up his Israeli citizenship, was draped only in a prayer shawl. The body of the sixth victim, a Mexican citizen, Norma Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz, a Mexican citizen, who had intended to come to live in Israel this week, was also not draped in the Israeli flag.

    Teitelboim's family, which belongs to the anti-Zionist Satmar Hassidic sect of Orthodox Judaism, has rejected Israel's offer to hold an official memorial ceremony for him along with the other Jewish and Israeli fatalities.

    In a tearful ceremony, the Jewish community of Mumbai paid their last respects to Chabad House emissaries Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, killed in the terror attack last Wednesday, at the Knesset Eliyahu Synagogue on Monday. Rivka's parents, Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg were in attendance, along with the Holtzbergs' 2-year-old son, Moshe, who survived the attack.

    Thousands of people are expected to attend the Holtzbergs' funeral on Tuesday, which will leave Kfar Chabad this afternoon for the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

    In Mumbai on Monday, Israel's ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, addressed the congregation at the Mumbai ceremony. However, all eyes and cameras were on Moshe, who was spirited out of the besieged Chabad House at the start of the rampage. Moshe sat on the lap of an Indian worker at Chabad House, Zaki Hussein, who was one of the two Indians who got the toddler out of the house. Reports detailed how Moshe's Nanny, Sandra Samuel, held on to Moshe as Hussein stood on the steps of the house so the terrorists would not see them.

    Samuel did not take part in the ceremony since she was busy applying for her first passport, after the Israel Foreign Ministry gave her permission to come to Israel with the Rosenbergs.

    A few times during the ceremony at the synagoguge Moshe called for Sandra while his grandmother calmed him with a bottle of water and a piece of candy. When the time came for the last speaker, Rabbi Itzhak Yeruslavsky, a Chabad leader from Israel, Moshe started crying and calling out "Mommy, Mommy." He refused to be consoled and was finally taken outside.

    In a voice choked with sobs, Rivka's father, Shimon Rosenberg, who is the Chabad rabbi of Afula, said: "The Lord gave, the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord," and pledged that Chabad House in Mumbai would continue to operate. "Rivki and Gabi were not private citizens," he said. "Everything they did they did for someone else." He thanked Sandra Samuel and said, "We have to thank God for the resourcefulness she showed."

    Israeli Ambassador Mark Sofer said: "This is not the time to ask why the world did not do enough to work against the bestial behavior of people and to ask why these two countries, India and Israel, suffer so much from terror. But we, the Israelis and the Indians and the civilized world, will not stop until we are victorious over terror."

    Israeli police crime scene investigators arrived early Monday in Mumbai for a final check to ensure no Israelis were among the unidentified bodies. They were on a search of the hospitals in the city when word came that the last two Israelis who had not contacted their families while in India had been heard from, and that they were not in Mumbai at the time of the attacks.

    Services were held, in keeping with Foreign Ministry procedure, at the airport in Mumbai in the presence of Ambassador Sofer, after which the coffins were placed aboard an Israel Air Force aircraft bound for Israel."



    "Kedoshim Arrive in Eretz Yisroel; Gerrer Rebbe Travels to Ben Gurion

    Monday, DEC 01, 2008

    Israeli Air Force aircraft carrying the bodies of the six kedoshim murdered at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport late this evening, Israel time. A brief memorial service was held at the airport, with representatives of the bereaved mishpachos present. The bodies were then taken to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, for the necessary pre-kevurah preparations.

    At the airport, the Gerrer Rebbe came to pay his kavod acharon to the kedoshim.

    Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, as well as MKs Yitzchak Cohen and Yaakov Edery attended the ceremony, as did MK Yaakov Litzman. Hundreds of relatives and friends were present as well.

    Thousands are expected to attend the levayos across Eretz Yisroel tomorrow.

    The levaya of R’ Leibish Teitelbaum will take place tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at his father-in-law’s bais medrash, the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Bais Medrash in Meah Shearim in Yerushalayim, with kevurah on Har Hazeisim.

    The levaya of R' Bentzion Kruman will take place at noon at the main Bobover Bais Medresh in Kiryat Bobov in Bat Yam and will continue at the Bobover Bais Medrash on Rechov Chazon Ish Street in Bnei Brak. Kevurah will take place in the Spinka Chelkah of the Segulah Bais Hakevaros.

    The levaya of R’ Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg is scheduled to be held tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. in Bais Medrash Agudas Chabad in Kefar Chabad. The levaya will then continue at the Chabad Yeshiva Torah Emes in Yerushalayim, with kevurah on Har Hazeisim, where Rivky’s grandfather is buried. Tens of thousands of people from throughout Eretz Yisroel and around the world are expected to attend the levaya. Extra public transportation is being provided to help people travel to the levaya.

    Meir Holtzberg, R’ Gavriel's brother, said the family has asked there be few hespeidim and speeches. "It has taken a long enough time as it is for the body to be brought to Israel. We have no desire to postpone the kevurah any further. This will be a short procession,” he said.

    The two other kedoshim, Yocheved Orpaz and Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, will also be laid to rest.

    Other details:

    - El Al Airlines gave a special price for the 6:20 p.m. flight tonight for those who wish to attend the levaya of R’ Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg. The flight will arrive in Israel at 12 noon and will return on Wednesday or Friday morning. The price was $995 including taxes; the regular price would have been $1990.

    - Zaka reports that a bullet-ridden Sefer Torah found in the aron kodesh in the Chabad House in Mumbai had a bullet hole directly on the posuk in Sefer Vayikrah of "Acharei mos shnei bnei Aharon."

    - Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, Rivky Holtzberg’s father, has asked that he should become the replacement shliach in Mumbai, to carry on the work of his daughter and son-in-law.

    {Yair Newscenter}


    "B"H Tuesday, 5 Kislev 5769 | December 02 2008

    We May Take Rivka's Place as Envoys

    Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent in Mumbai

    MUMBAI - Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg and his wife, Yehudit, on Monday said they are considering becoming Chabad's new emissaries to Mumbai, Army Radio reported.

    Earlier on Monday, the bodies of Rivka Holtzberg and five other Israelis killed last week when Islamist terrorists attacked the Chabad House were flown from Mumbai to Israel.

    Government officials planned a small ceremony upon the plane's arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport late Monday, with funerals scheduled Tuesday.

    Also Monday, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem announced that the final two Israelis who had been unaccounted for in Mumbai since a small army of terrorists struck the city have been located alive and healthy.

    Seven members of the Israel Police's victim identification unit had flown to India on Sunday to assist in locating the two missing Israelis, who were feared killed in one of the terror attacks that struck the city.

    Meanwhile, dozens gathered at the Knesset Eliyahu synagogue in Mumbai for an emotional ceremony in memory of the six Jews killed last week when Islamist terrorists attacked the city's Chabad headquarters.

    Rabbi Rosenberg, whose daughter Rivka and son-in-law Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg both died in the attack, called on the mourners to continue the work his children had begun as the Lubavitch movement's emissaries to Mumbai and vowed that Chabad would continue to operate in the city despite the bloody acts.

    Among the participants at the ceremony were Israel's ambassador to India and members of the Israeli rescue team, but all eyes in the room were on the Holtzberg's 2-year-old son, Moshe, who brought the room to tears when during the ceremony he cried out: "Mommy, mommy!"

    Mark Sofer, the Israeli ambassador to India, also paid tribute to the victims.

    "This is a tragedy for India and a tragedy for Israel, but above all for the families," he said. "We, our Indian friends and the rest of the civilized world will continue to fight terrorism, until we win."

    They were killed because they were Jews, simple and plain'

    Two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg was accompanied on the trip back to Israel by his maternal grandparents, Yehudit and Shimon Rosenberg, who were reunited with their grandson when they arrived in Mumbai on Friday.

    "It was pure raw emotion, tears of joy, tears of sorrow, incredible emotion, understandably out of control," said Robert Katz, a New York-based fund-raiser for an Israeli orphanage founded by the boy's family.

    Asked about Moshe's condition, he said: I don't know that he can comprehend or that he will remember seeing his parents shot in cold blood.

    Moshe's father, Gavriel, was a dual American-Israeli citizen and his mother was Israeli.

    The couple lived in Israel and Brooklyn before they moved to Mumbai in 2003.

    The toddler has one older sibling who has Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder particularly prevalent in Jews of Eastern European origin. He is permanently hospitalized in Israel, Katz said. The couple's first-born child died of Tay-Sachs.

    Sandra Samuel, an Indian resident who was the boy's nanny in Israel, will live with Moshe in Israel "so at least he has someone he knows and recognizes and loves," said Katz.

    During the siege of the Chabad House, Samuel had locked herself in a laundry room when she heard Moshe's mother Rivka screaming, 'Sandra help!' "Then the screaming stopped, and it was quiet," Katz said.

    She cracked open the door of her hiding place and saw a deserted staircase. She ran up one flight and saw the rabbi and his wife, covered in blood and shot to death. She snatched the crying boy, bolted down the stairs and out of the building.

    "She's been there with him throughout," Katz said.

    Though Samuel has no passport or papers, Moshe's grand-uncle, Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman, helped arrange for her to get a visa to Israel. In a sad coincidence, Grossman is founder of the Migdal Ohr, which says it is Israel's largest facility for orphaned and disadvantaged children.

    The Foreign Ministry said the government would arrange official funeral send representatives to the ceremonies, as it does for victims of attacks at home.

    "There are going to be thousands of people at this funeral," said Katz, executive vice president of Migdal Ohr's fundraising arm in New York.

    "This couple wasn't living in the West Bank. They weren't settlers. They weren't occupying anyone's land. They were killed because they were Jews, simple and plain'."



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