“They were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and even in their deaths they were not parted from Him. They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions to carry out the will of their Maker.”
Ever since its establishment by the Holtzbergs in 2003, the Chabad House in Mumbai served an eclectic variety of people; their home was always open for all Jews, no matter their nationality or affiliation. That fateful evening in November 2008 when terror struck found the Holtzbergs hosting several visitors:
Rabbi Benzion Kruman, a devoted husband and loving father of three young children, ranging in age (at the time) from two months to five years, was 28 years of age. Kruman, an eminent Torah scholar, grew up in Bat Yam, Israel, in the local Bobov chassidic community.
A kosher supervisor, Kruman was in India to help his colleague, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, inspect a mushroom packing plant. The two stopped in the Chabad House for the afternoon prayers. Unfortunately, this short stop ended in their tragic murder.
Kruman is survived by his wife, Emunah; three children, Mordechai, Serrie, and Rivkah; his parents; and nine siblings.
A resident of Givatayim, Israel, Yocheved Orpaz had traveled to India to visit her daughter and two grandchildren in Mumbai. Since Orpaz ate only kosher, the Holtzbergs provided her with food and showed her what to buy in the market. At the end of the trip, Orpaz went back to the Chabad House to thank Gabi and Rivky. A short time later, the gunmen attacked the Chabad House.
The 62-year-old grandmother and mother of four, described by her friends as a noble woman and a kindhearted soul, was among those mercilessly killed.
Norma Shvarzblat-Rabinovich, a 50-year-old mother of three from Mexico, was in the process of moving from Mexico to Israel to join two of her children living there. She had been staying as a guest at the Chabad House in Mumbai in the days leading up to the fateful attacks, while she sorted out her immigration paperwork.
Shvarzblat-Rabinovich had planned to take a December 1 flight to Tel Aviv, in order to arrive for her son’s eighteenth birthday. In the end, an Israel Air Force jet transported her body on the same date.
She will be remembered by her son, two daughters, and many friends as a loving and hospitable woman who protested injustice and loved nature, a naturally friendly person who liked to laugh, talk, and meet new people.
Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum
Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, the 37-year-old son of the Grand Rabbi Nachum Ephraim Teitelbaum, known as the Volover Rov, was a dominant figure in his father’s kosher certification organization, known for its impeccable standards. He was in India at the time as a kosher supervisor. A resident of Jerusalem, he was a son-in-law of the Rebbe of the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak chassidic community.
Teitelbaum left behind a widow and eight orphans, the oldest at the time having just reached the age of bar mitzvah, and the youngest a few months old.
In addition to being known as an extremely learned individual, Teitelbaum was a gentle soul and a pious young man, with a cheerful and sunny personality, beloved by all who met him.
The Hosts: Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg
Rabbi Gavriel (Gabi) Holtzberg was born in Israel, and moved with his family to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., when he was nine. He studied at yeshivahs in New York and Argentina, and as a rabbinical student, served Jewish communities in Thailand and China. He was 29 at the time of the attacks.
Rivky, Gavriel’s 28-year old wife, was born Rivkah Rosenberg in Afula, Israel.
The Holtzbergs married in 2002, and abandoning the comfortable life they could have had in Israel or the U.S., the two moved to Mumbai a year after their marriage to serve as Chabad emissaries and open the first Chabad House in Mumbai. They served the small local Jewish community, visiting businesspeople, and the numerous tourists, many of them Israeli, who annually travel to the seaside city.
Gabi and Rivky were no strangers to hardship. Their first child, Menachem Mendel, died from a congenital disease, and another son, Dovber, also suffered from the same disorder, and passed away a few weeks after his parents were killed.
Besides being a trained ritual circumciser and slaughterer, Gabi also conducted weddings for local Jewish couples, and taught numerous Torah classes at the Chabad House and other locations across the city.
Despite his young years, he left a legacy of selflessness, dedication and kindness that will be widely admired for many years to come.
Rivka Holtzberg, nee Rosenberg, on her wedding day in 2002
Rivky forged close friendships with many members of the community in India, and was always available for a heart-to-heart conversation with a traveler passing through. She was passionate about the classes she taught, and especially enjoyed explaining the beauty of the Jewish view of marriage and intimacy. A great source of pride for Rivky was the mikvah (ritual bath) that the Holtzbergs had built for Jewish women in Mumbai.
Those who visited the Chabad House would speak of her endless hospitality and the warmth and comfort she emanated. (Click here to watch Rivky’s close colleague, Chani Lifshitz, describe Rivky.)
The Holzbergs are survived by their son Moshe, two at the time, who was miraculously saved, carried out of the beleaguered Chabad House in the arms of his courageous nanny.
An Open House
Those who visited the Chabad House say they will never forget the weekly Friday night meals, where Gabi would go around the table and ask everyone to share their choice of a Torah thought, a story, a song, or a mitzvah they’d like to add to their routine.
The smile with which Rivky greeted every person she met—from jewelers to rabbis to prison convicts—will always be remembered.
The genuine concern for others that they embodied will always live on in the lives they touched.
Click here to read many memories shared by people fortunate enough to have met this special couple.