Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mumbai, Chabad, Terrorism, Love

The Essence of High Drama Is Life

This is a blog about "Romance" -- Romance in faraway places with strange sounding names.

But today I bring you a dose of sobering reality.

It is from that reality in which we are embedded that we draw our fuel for our Art. Outrage, anger, fear, determination, shock, remorse, grief, and conquering all of these LOVE.

Love is the petrol -- the fossil fuel from long dead ages -- our heritage that powers our Artform, our Real Lives, and ultimately our souls.

And so, I have to tell you a real life story.

When I first heard of the coordinated attacks in Mumbai, I was surprised CNN was carrying it full time live. Then I remembered Mumbai is very much like New York, a nation's financial capital, surrounded by water, an easy target, and that a lot of people from India live in the USA -- a lot of Americans live or travel India -- business has burgeoned.

Mumbai is now on the border with Phoenix, Arizona. The world shrank. Bloggers in India were reporting on events in Mumbai as the events unfolded.

So gradually I learned what was going on. Then I heard via personal friends and contacts that one of the restaurant attacks was the restaurant next door to the Chabad Center in Mumbai.

The Rabbi there was on the phone with someone in my network, and I heard that the Rabbi had said that bullets were flying through the Chabad Center. He hung up. They called back. No answer. No further contact with that Rabbi or his wife again.

Chabad (a Jewish organization, but not at all like the ones usually termed "Ultra Orthodox"-- I mean not at ALL like them) had a place in Mumbai?!!!

That hadn't occurred to me. I don't know why I was shocked -- Chabad is everywhere. And it makes sense they'd locate next to a tourist restaurant because they serve the needs of travelers.

So suddenly, I am clinging to the TV screen and rifling through the news reports. What happened to the acquaintance of my friends? Oh, I hope they're OK.

Next morning, I learned 5 were dead in the Chabad House, and 2 terrorists were dead in the Chabad Center. (Later it was 6 dead). Finally, they reported the Rabbi and his wife had been killed. I was stunned senseless but I didn't cry.

There was no word on WHO else was dead. So I dug up a story on Yahoo and in the middle a tiny paragraph said the 2 year old baby had been rescued by "an employee" of the Center. No word on who else died or who the employee was.

I sat there and cried harder than I've ever cried in my whole life. THE BABY SURVIVED!!!

It was his nanny who saved him -- and he came out of there covered in blood. 2 is old enough to be terribly traumatized by whatever he must have seen, heard and experienced. (days later, I learned he made it to Israel and the family had managed to bring the Nanny too so the baby would have a familiar face during the "terrible 2's.")

As I learned the story of this Rabbi and his family, learned how hard their lives had been from those who knew them personally, I figured out why I cried so hard at survival while I was just numb over the deaths. Among all the pain and suffering in this world, there is GOOD.

That baby is important. Survival is important. Life and love are important. Death stalks us all. Love transcends. That baby is loved. That baby is love in our real world.

I learned that the baby's 2nd birthday was Friday, the First of Kislev, the New Moon before Hanukkah. The Biblical portion read on the day the parents died had been sited twenty years ago or so by the Rebbe, on the occasion of another attack on a Chabad Center.

The Rebbe was the Rabbi who headed up the Lubavitch group that sponsors Chabad and sends Rabbis to the ends of the Earth to find people to help.

That Biblical portion that the Rebbe quoted will therefore be this boy's Bar Mitzvah portion -- a portion he will memorize.

What other coincidences surround this child, I don't know. Maybe he, himself, will never appear in the news (once on CNN is enough for a lifetime). He may never do anything much, but that he exists means love exists. Love prevails. Joy lights the world. A tiny candle dispels the darkness. Never doubt love conquers all.

For the official Chabad obituary see


All of this became seriously personal to me when I got the following email from a friend of mine, a Rabbi at my local Chabad, who is the same age as the Rabbi who was murdered, who sat in the same classrooms, and knew this Rabbi as he grew up.

My friend talked about this man's personality, his constant optimistic outlook, his capacity for joy, his zest for life, his brilliant mind. I asked then if I could quote this email text that was sent out on Friday.


Dear Friend,

My heart is bursting and eyes brimming with tears and we join the more then 3000 Chabad Centers & World Jewry as the news of the fate of my colleague and close friend Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg rolls in and at least three of their guests Who are still unnamed, have been murdered. A vibrant young Rabbi and his wife dedicated their lives to spreading messages of Torah and Mitzvahs in the far out community in Mumbai, alas, now they're dead!

What were they doing there? What possessed a couple who had a multitude of opportunities in life to move to Mumbai to open a Chabad Center / Lubavitch Center?

Allow me to explain.

Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Hotlzberg moved to Mumbai not as you may yourself understand, to further a career or because the pay was good rather because he was inspired by the vision and quest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A vision that was to incorporate every single Jew in the world. Every Jew, no matter where he may find himself physically or spiritually was to have a way to connect to their precious heritage. So persistent and dedicated was the Rebbe to this ideal that he created a global network of his own personal Shluchim (emissaries) to ensure that this happen. Instructions were clear; upon arriving at your assigned community do everything in your power to provide for the material and spiritual benefit of every Jew. Even those Jews who have little obvious interest, were to be sought out and inspired to give them a way back in. The Holtzbergs were in Mumbai as emissaries of this tremendous ideal. Their dedication was a selfless one and a holy one. Their success wasn't one that could merely be quantified in physical terms rather their success was one of spiritual giants! Their success was one that we could only aspire to.

The outpouring of love and dedication from all corners of the community has been inspiring. Like one large family, everyone feeling the pain of the other reaching out to find out what can and needs to be done at a time like this?

The answer is quite clear. The ideals and actions of Gavriel and Rivkah (obm) need to be intensified and strengthened. If they stood for vibrant Jewish life then it is up to each and everyone of us to intensify in our own personal Judaism. To ensure the immortality of the Holtzbergs and the ultimate failure of the terrorists we all need to take a step forward in ensuring that the truth of Torah Judaism not only survive but flourish.


I think this Chabad Rabbi has explained what Linnea Sinclair was talking about in her blog entry THE ASSUMPTION OF EVER AFTER (Sunday Nov 30, 2008) and in the comments to that blog entry about "trying" being the entry point into a Romance that results in "ever after." I answered Linnea's comment on her own post that her "try" was all about "risk." And that's what these Chabad Rabbis do: Risk, but knowing that risk is worth the objective, which is love.

My husband later dug out of the international online news that though at first it was thought the Terrorists targeted Americans, British -- any international travelers -- it now appears they were specifically after Jewish Americans, Jewish Brits, etc. I haven't seen that confirmed yet, but now we are hearing warnings that this style of attack may target New York.

Whatever Pakistan/India politics and war history may have been involved, this terrorist act was not strategic (with a bit more planning and warriors, they could have literally taken over Mumbai for a few weeks). It was not just to establish the name of a new terrorist organization in a competition among terrorist organizations.

This attack was hate inspired. A group of 20-something old men raised for 20 years on a mental diet of pure hatred, trained for a year or two in warfare, struck out in hatred. The philosophy: You can kill what you hate by hitting it and that will solve your teen-angst because all your problems are caused by something external to you.

Chabad's response to being hit is to ignite love in the world. And that is absolutely typical of Chabad. I've seen it over and over, from the absolutely most trivial matters of congregation politics to the most vivid matters of global hatred. That's what Chabad does. They love.

Here are two more references for the general response to the massacre in Mumbai.

From Rabbi Zvi Freeman:

R. Freeman writes some nifty articles online. I truly appreciate his wild imagination! Only this essay is cold sober. A question came in asking the classic, how is it that such a horrible thing happened to such a great Rabbi and his family. "This is their reward? This is the protection G-d gives them?"

It is an agonizing classic that has no answer. Rabbi Freeman answered very fully at this URL


And he said in small part:
We will revenge the work of violence by doubling and quadrupling our works of peace and love. We will fill the world with light and wisdom and the spirit of darkness in men's hearts shall forever perish. They come with their guns and their might, with a god of destruction and terror, but we come in the name of the Eternal, the source of all life and healing.

Here's a page from the central Chabad organization:

Their web page "What Can I Do?"

And a quote from them:
There are tears, pain, mourning and loss. There is hope, commitment and faith.

But there are no words.

Instead our actions must speak for each of us. The people that we help, the differences that we make, will testify to what we cannot verbalize. The goal of terror is to paralyze, to make us feel there is nothing we can change. We will now work all that more passionately to ensure that nothing will stop us from growing, from developing and creating.

We owe it to the victims—the more than 190 innocent victims, including six of our Jewish brothers and sisters: Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg, directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai; Rabbis Bentzion Chroman and Leibish Teitelbaum; Norma Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz; and Yocheved Orpaz. May their righteous memory be for blessing.

In the name of all the 190 victims, we fuel our deeds with love.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. We've been following the miracle baby's story because his parents had relatives in the Anchorage Jewish community. I'm thrilled to knew he was rescued by his nanny, being a former nanny myself!