Hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide continue to pray for the welfare of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, directors of the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Mumbai, India. Officials in New York and Israel, however, are growing increasingly concerned with each passing hour.
Many synagogues held special emergency prayer services on Thursday, and countless others responded to e-mail requests for the saying of Psalms. Students from the central yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel, also hit the streets of Tel Aviv to help Jewish men don tefillin. Meanwhile, a team of 15 Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in California, New York, Washington, Israel, India and Bangkok worked the phones during the crisis, spending long, sleepless hours awaiting any morsel of information.
The at-times conflicting reports from the field have led those in contact with Israeli, American and Indian government officials to use a measure of caution when dissecting varying accounts of the violence still taking place in Mumbai.
Despite reports to the contrary, no one has heard from the Holtzbergs for almost 24 hours. Soon after the attacks began, Gavriel Holtzberg called the Israeli Consulate, but the conversation cut out. Since then, a suspected Islamic terrorist reportedly used Holtzberg cell phone to call India TV.
According to a transcript of that conversation, the man, 25-year-old Imran Babar claimed that there were five other persons with him at the Nariman House, where the Chabad House is located.
IBN, CNN’s sister network in India, aired footage of what appeared to be seven released hostages walking away from the Chabad House. Further reports from other sources, however, indicated that the people, who appeared to be local residents, may have come from neighboring buildings. Lights remained off at the Chabad House, and Indian commandos appeared ready to reenter the building.
The latest death toll in the attacks – which began Wednesday night local time when teams of terrorists armed with plastic explosives, machine guns, grenades and ammunition came ashore at the Gateway to India monument – stands at 125, according to IBN. Some 327 people are wounded.
Gunmen are also apparently still operating at the luxury Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels.
The Holtzbergs’ toddler son, Moshe, managed to escape earlier in the day with his nanny. The Associated Press reported that the boy was unharmed, but was wearing blood-soaked pants. His grandparents from Israel were making their way to Mumbai to take care of him.
-- Updated at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time
On Thursday morning, one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India continued in the financial center of Mumbai. Police and military operations were in progress at several locations, including popular hotels and a Jewish center in the Colaba section of the city.
Three people, including the toddler son of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, walked out of Nariman House, home to Mumbai’s Chabad-Lubavitch center. The fate of the parents is unknown, but it is believed they are still inside.
According to numerous reports, a hostage crisis was still taking place at the center, as well as several hotels where gunmen started shooting late Wednesday. The Chabad House offers daily prayer services and Torah classes, and is a popular hangout among Israeli tourists.
The rescues came late Thursday morning local time. Various news organizations reported the death toll in the series of attacks as more than 100, with more than 300 injured. The apparently-coordinated strikes, which together form one of the worst incidents to strike India, began when suspected Islamic terrorists came ashore near the Gateway of India monument by boats and immediately targeted the Chabad House and several hotels. They then quickly fanned out to a central train station and other tourist locations.
Throughout the night, news out of Mumbai worsened. An initial police response was met by heavy resistance; at least three officers, including a top commander, were killed in gun battles. In addition, several explosions rang out at the Taj Mahal Hotel before flames spread through the building.
Before the attacks, one friend of Gavriel Holtzberg reported receiving an e-mail from the Mumbai rabbi at 11:30 p.m. local time. The Israeli Consulate was in touch with the rabbi, but the line was cut in the middle of the conversation. By daybreak, it was clear that terrorists were occupying the Chabad House, and a rapid-response team from the Indian military took over operations there.
People are urged to pray for the well-being of the couple (whose Jewish names are Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis) and all others affected by the tragedy.