A little boy celebrates his upsherin, the Jewish boy's traditional third-birthday haircutting ceremony, and smiles broadly at the guests—some of them familiar faces, many of them strangers. The focus is on him and he feels the collective warmth, while his grandparents and nanny stand close by. The name of one rabbi after another is announced and the boy seems confused and yet energized by the sheer number of people passing by him. He receives a huge gift and a chocolate cake with candles, and the joy in his face replaces – and yet recalls – the tears that fell just a year ago in a synagogue in Mumbai, as the same boy cried out "Ima, Ima!" perhaps sensing, if not knowing, that he had seen his parents for the last time.
A year after the devastation in Mumbai, Moshe Holtzberg's life continues, much like the life of any other boy in Israel. He lives in Afula with his maternal grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, and his nanny, Sandra, who snatched him from the jaws of terror. "This year Moshe is going to gan (preschool) and is doing very well. He is very happy and excited to go every day," says Yehudit. "He is a very smart kid, but at the same time, he is like any other kid."
"We do not let the tears show up when he is around. There is a right time and place for the tears..."Moshe's memories of his life with his parents in distant India come in vivid flashes and dawn on him suddenly. "Sometimes he has flashbacks and memories from the time he was in Mumbai," Yehudit continues, "and when they appear they come out amazingly fresh. We freeze when these memories come up and we try to go along with him and support him to open up and share. We reply to him that his parents love him and care for him very much.
"Moshe is the source of inspiration and hope and we need to provide him with a healthy environment…we do not let the tears and sorrow show up when he is around. There is a right time and place to let the tears come out."
Although he is deprived of the familiar embrace from his mother and father, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, they have a constant presence in the Rosenberg home through images and stories, and they warm Moshe's life like a bright and distant sun. Weeks after the tragedy, Moshe awoke in the middle of the night and called for Sandra. The nanny sat at the little boy's bedside, held his hand, and he told his nanny that he saw his mother who knelt beside him and said, "I love you very much."
"Sandra is the only link to his past. He is very strongly connected to her," Yehudit said of the Indian nanny who risked her life by snatching the crying toddler with blood-stained clothes and running from the hostage scene that once was a Chabad House. Yet Sandra feels that her task of caring for Moshe is drawing to a close as the little boy's bond with his grandparents, who seemed almost like strangers in the initial days and weeks following the tragedy, is growing stronger.
"I felt a kind of responsibility when Moshe lost his parents, knowing that he was so attached to me. Now he has adjusted to the new surroundings and his family members just adore him," Sandra told Israel's Channel 2 news. "My home is India. I belong to India. The kid is quite attached to his grandparents now, and I would like to move on."
Indian nanny Sandra Samuel presents three-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, whom she saved from the carnage of Mumbai’s Chabad House, with his birthday present.
While questions about his parents are not constant, Moshe asks about his parents and waves to them every day on the way to gan as he passes a billboard with a large image of the slain couple. The billboard marks the future site of a replica of "770," as the building that houses Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, is known. The 770 in Afula has been established by the Rosenbergs as a "House of Good Deeds" that will provide free meals, dental services, clothes and toys for poor families. Unaware of the project of kindness undertaken in his parents' memory, but seeing their smiling faces every day on the way to gan, Moshe waves at his parents and sometimes asks, "Saba (Grandfather), where are Ima and Abba (Mother and Father)?"
"In heaven, Moshe," answers his grandfather.
Moshe and waves to his parents every day as he passes a billboard with a large image of the slain couple.Moshe refers to Yehudit and Shimon Rosenberg as Savta and Saba (Grandfather and Grandmother), and it is clear from his behavior at times that he knows that the familiar images of the smiling couple are his mother and father.
In the weeks prior to his upsherin, when a boy's hair is cut for the first time and when he begins to wear tzitzit, the Rosenbergs let Moshe try on his tzitzit to get used to wearing them. After putting them on, reciting the blessing and kissing the strings, he immediately ran to the large picture of his mother and put the tzitzit strings to her lips, then pointed to the picture of his father, smiled and said, "Look, I have tzitzit just like my father!"
Nachman and Freida Holtzberg, Gavriel's parents, flew from New York and visited Moshe for a month. Moshe's aunt, Rikal Kaler, described the singing in the home those weeks as Nachman led the family in many niggunim, Chassidic songs, for hours. "There was one particular niggun Gabi loved," recalls Rikal. "It was the niggun of my ancestor, Rabbi Michel of Zlotchev. This niggun also happened to have been chanted by the thousands of mourners at the burial on the Mount of Olives.
"After completing the song, my father noticed a change in Moshe's demeanor. He was in another world, a sad expression clearly visible. And so my father prepared to sing a more upbeat niggun. But before he could begin, Moshe asked that they sing the Zlotchever's niggun again. Upon finishing it, Moshe wanted to repeat the niggun yet again. They continued singing the niggun together over and over.
"That Shabbat, while sitting at the table, Moshe began singing. He was singing his father's beloved niggun."
Moshe feels the warmth of his parents' guidance and love, if only from far away in Heaven, and yet, their physical absence inspires questions. Shimon Rosenberg told Channel 2 News about an exchange with his grandson:
Moshe feels the warmth of his parents' guidance and love, if only from far away in Heaven"Where are Ima and Abba?"
"In Heaven," Rabbi Rosenberg replied.
"Why did they go to Heaven and not me?"
"They were great holy people," Rabbi Rosenberg replied. "For you it is not time yet."
"But Saba, you are a great holy person, and you are still here..."
"I had no answer," confessed Rabbi Rosenberg. "We believe that when Moshiach comes, they will be resurrected. That gives us some comfort."