Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory.
Jewish communities around the world reacted with shock to the loss of the couple, who were killed Thursday at their Chabad House during an apparent standoff between Indian military forces and terrorists. Also killed at the Chabad House were kosher supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum of New York and American-Israeli Bentzion Chroman. Citing confirmation from Israel's Foreign Ministry, the English Web site of Yediot Achronot reported the identity of a fifth victim as Israeli woman Yocheved Orpaz. At least one other hostage was reportedly killed.
Through the heroic actions of his nanny, the Holtzberg's toddler son, Moshe, managed to escape many hours before Indian commandos stormed their building, known as the Nariman House, in the popular touristy neighborhood of Colaba. The Associated Press reported that the boy - whose birthday was Saturday - was unharmed, but was wearing blood-soaked pants.
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"Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. "As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting businesspeople.
"For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty," continued the statement. "Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started."
The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small local Jewish community, visiting businesspeople and the throngs of tourists, many of them Israeli, who annually travel to the seaside city.
Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents, when he was nine. A prodigious student, Holtzberg was a two-time champion in a competition of memorizing the Mishnah, a compendium of rabbinical laws and enactments redacted in the second century C.E.
Rivkah Holtzberg holds her son Moshe (center).
He studied at yeshivas in New York and Argentina, and as a rabbinical student served communities in Thailand and China under the Summer Rabbinical Visitation Program run by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.
His 28-year-old wife, born Rivkah Rosenberg, is a native of Afula, Israel. Chayki Rosenberg described her sister as dedicated to helping Jews.
She “gives lots of classes for women at the Chabad House,” Rosenberg told The Jerusalem Post.
Friends described her as always having a positive outlook and a kind word for everyone.
Two years ago, the Holtzbergs raised funds to purchase the current location of the Rohr Chabad Center, a five-story building in Mumbai’s Colaba market area known as Narimon House. A trained ritual circumciser and slaughterer, the rabbi also conducted weddings for local Jewish couples in addition to teaching Torah classes and visiting with tourists.
His last known phone call was to the Israeli Consulate Wednesday night to report that gunmen were in his house. In the middle of the conversation, the line went dead.
The Holtzbergs joined the more than 195 people who were killed in the Wednesday night through Friday attacks, which saw at least 10 suspected Islamic terrorists come ashore in Mumbai near the Gateway of India monument. The terrorists, carrying assault rifles and grenades, quickly fanned out to a central train station, the Chabad House and other tourist locations, including several popular hotels.
According to security services, the Chabad House was a pre-selected target.
Rivkah Holtzberg cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of a Jewish ritual bath in Mumbai.
A team of 15 Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in California, New York, Washington, Israel, India and Bangkok worked the phones throughout the crisis, spending long, sleepless nights awaiting any morsel of information and working to confirm at-times conflicting reports from the field. Hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world prayed for the Holtzbergs, saying Psalms in their merit.
The local police in Mumbai and the highest reaches of the Indian government got involved, but military assault teams first concentrated their efforts on the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, where hundreds of foreign tourists were either holed up or being held hostage. When they finally entered the Chabad House on Friday, they found that the worst had occured.
Rivkah Holtzberg's parents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, arrived in Mumbai early Friday morning to bring their now-orphaned grandson home to family.
To contribute to a fund established to aid relief efforts in Mumbai, go to www.ChabadIndia.org.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
A press conference was given by Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of the Educational and Social Services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement, click here to view the video.