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Sandra Samuel: A Heroine in Mumbai

Sandra Samuel: A Heroine in Mumbai

Sandra Samuel escaping from the Mumbai Chabad House with 2-year-old Moshe'le Holtzberg in her arms
Sandra Samuel escaping from the Mumbai Chabad House with 2-year-old Moshe'le Holtzberg in her arms

I keep trying to imagine the situation. The terrorists break into the Chabad house and everyone there fears that this could be the end. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg calls the Israeli Consulate. "The situation is not good" is all he is able to say in Hebrew before the line goes dead. That is the last anyone hears from him.

Would they find her baby? Would they kill him?After a grueling forty-eight hours, when rescuers are finally able to enter the Chabad house, the battered bodies of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, along with four of their guests, are discovered. They had been brutally murdered.

I can't help but wonder and worry, where was baby Moshe during this horiffic attack? This question haunts me.

Was he with his parents? It doesn't appear so for why would these ruthless murders have let him live? These very terrorists attacked a maternity ward in a hospital. They clearly had no mercy for babies. So one can assume he was not there at the time.

I imagine he was in bed, perhaps his crib, for the night. Most likely on another floor of the building. For when he was found, he was clutching a doll. Perhaps the one he would go to sleep with.

I think about Rivka and what must have been going through her mind. Would they find her baby? Would they kill him? Should she tell them he was there? What if he wakes up? What if he starts to cry? Is there anything she can do for him? We will never know what ran through her mind. But every mother knows that her baby was the last thing she thought about.

One of the only comforts from this entire tragedy that viciously took the lives of 183 innocent victims, is that little Moshe was heroically saved.

Little Moshe was calling her nameWhen a mother leaves her baby in the care of another, be it for an hour or a day, it requires a tremendous amount of trust. We hope and pray that our baby will be well taken care of, fed, clothed properly and watched carefully. We try to ensure that if G‑d Forbid there is a problem, the caretaker will know what to do, who to call, how to care for our child. But how many of us can assume that if the situation arises, that our caretaker will actually risk her life for our child? How many of us really feel that our babysitter would die to save our baby?

The Holtzbergs were blessed with such a selfless, brave and heroic caretaker. There is no question that if it were not for the actions of Sandra Samuel, Moshe's nanny, he would not have survived the ordeal. Sandra was on the bottom floor of the Chabad House when the terrorists stormed in. She barricaded herself while she cowered from the shootings and bombings happening above her head. She did not dare leave her hiding spot until the next day, when the attacks seemed to have stopped. It was only then that she heard little Moshe crying.

She easily could have ran out, saving herself. It would have been understandable. After all, the terrorists didn't know that anyone was left inside alive. If they heard the crying, they would come back in to finish the job. It would have made most sense for her to get out of there as quickly as possible. But she didn't. She couldn't. Little Moshe was calling her name.

Sandra left her barricaded room and went upstairs for Moshe. She found him, next to his parents and soaked in blood. She grabbed him and ran.

Miraculously, the terrorists who were still on the roof of the Chabad House didn't hear or see her or Moshe. Miraculously, this little orphan survived because of his caretaker who risked everything to save him.

Baby Moshe, who just turned two on Shabbat, is now with his maternal grandparents. He will be living with them in Israel. His grandparents are already taking care of his older sibling who is unfortunately quite ill and in Israel for treatment. Not long ago Moshe lost another sibling to a degenerative genetic disease. They are currently working on getting a visa to bring Sandra to Israel. Right now, she is the only one little Moshe will respond to.

This little orphan survived because of his caretaker who risked everything to save himAs Moshe grows older, he will have to struggle with the reality of what happened to his parents. Trying to make sense, at any age, of senseless brutality and death is the greatest of challenges. He will not be able to understand why it happened. No one can. And as loving as his grandparents are, they are not his parents.

But through his pain and loss, he will also hear the stories of the incredible work his parents did, the numerous lives they touched and people they helped. And he will be blessed with the knowledge that his nanny, the very woman his parents trusted to care for him, gave him the utmost gift and risked everything for his well being. Nothing will ever replace the loss Moshe has endured. And nothing will fill the void that Gavriel and Rivka left when they were taken from this world. But Sandra Samuel is a light amidst this darkness. Sandra is the proof that when people show their evil, others will show their beauty and greatness.

Sandra Samuel is a true heroine.

Postscript: (November, 2009) It has been a year since the devastating attack at the Chabad House. Soon after Moshe's parents were murdered, he lost his older brother to a genetic disease. Moshe is now the only surviving member of his immediate family. Since the attack he has been living in Israel with his maternal grandparents and his loving nanny, Sandra, who reports that he is a thriving little boy.

Postscript: (Novmeber, 2010) Now, two years later, Moshe is three and in school and blossoming as a little boy. His beloved nanny, Sandra, now has Israeli citizenship and is still taking care for Moshe along with his maternal grandparents.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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V. Madhavan Rochester, MN May 1, 2012

Baby Moshe Little Moshe, Every time I think about you I am saddened and driven to tears. I'm so sorry that these cowards brought such sadness to your life. Please know that there are more than a billion Indians that love you and wish nothing but the best for you. The best revenge is to live well and be happy and that is what I pray for you daily.

Lots of love to you Little Moshe! Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA November 22, 2011

Mumbai tragedy Reading this article today brought back the memory of such horrible murder. I read about it in Arutz Shevat. It broke my heart to see the pictures of this wonderful family. Beautiful children. I cannot understand the hate of these criminals. Reply

divya uday delhi, india December 18, 2010

really bad!! i am a delhihite but i know what all happened on 26/11. it was really sad b'cause many people had lost their lives and many people have lost their family members ;same happened with moshe ,he lost his parents andto live alone is great challenge for him. Reply

Shiva Chennai, India November 27, 2010

Not in India Continuing from previous post, what needs to happen in India, is "circles of security"; We NOW know that Islamic terrorists are going to target Jews even in India, since they are learning more and more about global movement of people; People of even non-Hindu faiths in India, generally do not act against the State since they are well integrated into Indian society; However, the main danger is those "Islamic" fanatics OUTSIDE India who try to mingle into Indian society quickly enough, to finish their purpose of terror, and try to get out (Or not!). India and Israel HAVE to work on strengthening coastline security, border security, and rapid local commando response Reply

Shiva Chennai, India November 27, 2010

Deepest Sympathies Deepest Sympathies for what happened – I am not Jewish, but feel the colossal failure of Govt to lose such benign and heroic parents of such a brave child.
Going forward, hope volunteers from Jewish community travelling to India can also help in keeping a "neighborhood watch" in India’s Jewish residences, together with input from Jewish and Indian security forces so as to form a fortress against these anti-Jewish acts at micro and macro levels Reply

Sanjay Avhad Mumbai, Maharastra/INDIA November 26, 2010

Second Tragic Memory
I will never forget the event 26/11 in my life.There should not be terrorism in the world. I pray for Moshe's hapiness. Reply

Rachel Paul Portland, USA November 23, 2010

Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg.... Today, may we all perform a 'special' mitzvah in thier memory. Reply

joyce Bronx, NY November 22, 2010

Thank you for the update. I'm heartened to hear that at least little Moshe'le has the continuity of his nanny. Reply

Ryan Nathan Oakland, CA October 12, 2010

tragic anniversary dismayed and confused by these heinous acts of cowardliness towards all the souls that were kind and propagating the work of god.
Citizens of the world need to realize there exist people who are kind and thoughtful towards other human beings. Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg we miss you all, you are now Angels... Our wish is that Moshe will grow to love mankind irrespective of any differences.

God will prevail, in any injustice. Reply

Anonymous L.A, CA June 17, 2010

It's been more than a year and a half since this terrible tragedy and I still can't shake away my shock about it. The memory of these poor souls and how they died continues to haunt me. How can human beings be so unimaginably cruel? I pray for little Moshe and the parents of the rabbi and rebbetzin, that they may find some measure of comfort and solace in their terrible loss. Reply

Anonymous mia, fl November 21, 2009

please g-d bless moshe holtzberg... this make you think about moses and the daughter of pharoah. we should treat non jews with the same honor that we would like to receive. just a smile can save a life... Reply

Michelle Andre November 21, 2009

If we think we have it bad, think of what this little guy had to deal with in his first year of life! Moishele is in my heart and my prayers! Reply

Shruti Lokre Mumbai, INDIA November 20, 2009

I wish lilttle Moshe alllllllllllllllll the luv and great luck ahead. I am falling short of words to express what I feel.....There is sense of deep burning anger...Its time that God steps in to stop TERRORISM...I cant see people losing their lives at the hands of extremely coward,mentally sick fanatics! In the entire Mumbai caranage of November 2008, it was Moshe's miraculous survival that leaves all of us with a sense of hope...may be it was God's way of telling us that in the end only Goodness will prevail...I wish , in my country India, people who are in charge of bringing the real culprits to books, atlleast show sone honesty...I feel thats the least that we could do to get justice for Rabbi and Rvika's...If prayers work...we will hear no TERRORISM any more! Let us all unite in praying for a terror free world...... Reply

Shamsher Delhi, India November 20, 2009

Son of brave hearts. He will definitely become a lion king. Reply

Jan Schulman Oxnard, CA November 18, 2009

Yartzeit and Moshe's Birthday Today, in our Chabad class, we learned that this day, November 18 - 1 Kislev, is the yartzeit of the murder of Moishe's parents, the Holzbergs, as well as his third birthday. I read at the end of the article that Sandra is with him in Israel, living with his grandparents. Bless them all! I understand that his older brother has passed away. he is the only survivor of his immediate family. But he has this wonderful nanny and his loving grandparents. His life will go on and he is blessed to be loved and cared for. Stay well little Moishele. Reply

Elinor Bat Noah Kish Island, Iran November 18, 2009

Words cannot say engough.. As someone who calls herself a Noahide, much inspired and cherrished by the light that illuminates through the teachings of Chabad and all the wonderful people who make Torah education possible, as someone who has seen the young Rabbis in Inda, who look like angels, so pious, so selfless, so dedicated to G-d, it is so very hard for me even to try to speak about how wonded I feel from within with this unbelievable tragedy, and how grateful to G-d I am that Sandra was there at least to save baby Moishe from the savage devils in Mumbai. May G-d Keep both of them safe and sound, may Hashem keep Moishe's grandparents living for so long, compensating for this big loss of losing such beautiful parents. Am Ysrael Chai Leolam. Reply

Chaya Bat Yam, Israel November 18, 2009

Dr. Aftab - Thank you Thank you for your kind comments, Dr. Aftab! I had to look twice at your name and where you are from! Pakistan!! Reply

Anonymous November 18, 2009

Sandra Samuel: A Heroine in Mumbai G-d always has a plan. I believe that G-d is trying to share something with us. As a Jew what I can understand about the attacks in Mumbai were people from Esav not Yakov as this week parsha Yitzchok is giving the blessings to his children. Therefore, the Holtzberg were like Yaakov and Rivkah.
They treat Sandra very kind and sweet so she develops love, respect towards them.
I believe that we need to work harder to be as our ancestors (Yaakov and Rivkah) so Esav and all his generations will not have the opportunities to hurts us anymore.
After the attacks happen I said Tehilim for little Moshe, I pray to G-d to help him to forget all those imagines and to turn just them in beautiful ones.
After the attacks I been working harder toward became a better person. Give a lot of love and respect to my husband. I have tried to teach my own daughters to be better Jewish women and learn to accept their choices even thou they are not what I believe. I have learned very slowly to turn it Reply

Joe SC, Brasil November 17, 2009

G-d bless Moshe and Sandra, may Sandra do Aliyah as soon as possible.
G-d bless His martyrs and their families. Reply

dr aftab multan, pakistan November 17, 2009

bravery leading to divine blessiing after a year, it is really a motivating to recall that sad incidents taking lives of innocent peoples. i really believe god will really give them standardised punishments here and in the hereafter and encouragements and energy to all innocent to grow as brave people Reply