“Who are you?” the custodian questioned the stranger walking into the synagogue. “Why are you here?”

“I want to see the priest of this synagogue,” the visitor, a young doctor, replied.

“Are you a Jew?”


The non-Jewish caretaker replied, “No, you can’t come in here.”

Disappointed, Dr. Abraham began to make his way down the stairs, but blocking his path was an elderly gentleman.

Every home he’d visit boasted several idols“Young man,” he said in a kind voice, “I heard that conversation. Come, come, tell me what you want. My name is Freddy. Freddy Sofer.” The elderly man ushered Dr. Abraham into a small room and ordered tea and snacks from the caretaker. “Come sit down, have a bite, and let’s talk.”

The doctor, feeling more at ease, fixed Mr. Sofer with a hopeful gaze. “I want my son to be circumcised,” he blurted out.

The elderly man nodded kindly. “I see,” he said. “So tell me about yourself.”

Dr. Abraham began to relate his story.

The road leading to Bina, a rural village in India, is rough and ragged, but the local villagers seem happy. Against the backdrop of the scenic landscape, the tribal residents take pride in their traditions and rituals. Yet, the tempest within the heart of Bhagirath Mohandas Prasad, then a young man of about twenty-two, refused to abate.

The storm began when at eighteen, Bhagirath, emerging from his sheltered childhood, began to question his spiritual roots. Every home he’d visited had several marble statues to which the families supplicated, and the inquisitive lad, the youngest of five children, couldn’t help but doubt the practice. He sought answers in newspapers, books and mentors. What was the rationale for these rituals? The explanations he received didn’t calm the tempest either. The silent sculptures only emphasized his profound frustration.

Until one day, compelled by something he couldn’t quite define, Bhagirath lifted the figurines of stone and wood and hurled them across the floor, where they remained lying in a broken heap. Fearing his father’s anger and the likelihood of a beating, young Bhagirath decided to run away.

Once Bhagirath reached adulthood, he moved to Bhopal, about two hundred kilometers from Bina, where he continued his medical education. A job in the government health service secured him enough money to visit the big city of Mumbai, where he could learn English and live among people from disparate cultures and geographical backgrounds.

He craved a life of honesty, if a simple oneAnd still, the storm in his heart wouldn’t cease. He witnessed one too many episodes of corruption, exploitation and unabashed bribery. Bhagirath became convinced that this system was not for him. He craved a life of honesty, if a simple one. His search led him to Christianity, and though he did not pursue that path, he continued to treasure the Bible he received from his would-be teachers.

He turned to Christianity, but was quickly deterred, though he continued to treasure the Bible he received from his would-be teachers.

At the time, Bhagirath was employed in a nursing home, working the night shift. A young nurse noticed his interest in the Bible, and they shared many nocturnal talks. Bhagirath was amazed at her wide knowledge of the Bible, and delighted in the answers that were always on her tongue. Her name was Rani, which, in the Hindi language, means “queen.”

It wasn’t long before the two got married, with Rani continuing to teach Bhagirath, and he continuing to read the Bible.

The Ten Commandments held a magnetic pull for Bhagirath, but Rani wasn’t very pleased. She sent her husband to several learned people to talk him out of his obsession, but they quickly gave up, thinking him a fool. Of course, this caused a tussle between the couple, but Bhagirath continued to insist on the Torah’s authenticity.

Dr. Abraham and his children at the Chanukah celebration in Mumbai.
Dr. Abraham and his children at the Chanukah celebration in Mumbai.

When the couple’s first son was born, Prasad decided that his son would have no connection to his background. Since every Indian child carries his father’s name as well as his own, Bhagirath Mohandas Prasad began to look for a new name, a name from the Bible.

“For my first name, I chose Aaron, after the high priest, and Abraham as my surname after our forefather Abraham who, like me, searched for G‑d. My wife, Rani, became Malka, which means ‘queen’ in Hebrew. She was fascinated by the biblical Samuel, so we gave that name to our son. We changed all our legal papers so that nothing remained of our past.”

“Do you know a Jewish family?” he asked the librarianWhen Dr. Prasad, now Dr. Abraham, read about the idea of circumcision, he was set on having his son circumcised. “I had been circumcised medically, so I thought I was fine. I didn’t know that a medical and a Jewish circumcision differed,” he explained.

The desire to circumcise his firstborn led Dr. Abraham to search for the Mumbai Jewish community, his only clue a Jewish library.

“Do you know a Jewish family?” he asked the librarian.


“Do you know of a Jewish church, then?” he tried again.

“No, no. Don’t call it that. Jews call it a synagogue, and yes, there’s one right across the road. It’s closed now at 8:30 PM, but you can go there anytime during the day.”

And that’s how it happened that several weeks later, one Shabbat afternoon, Dr. Abraham climbed the steps to the synagogue, only to be stopped by the caretaker.

“I want my son circumcised,” Dr. Abraham told the elderly man.

Mr. Sofer leaned back in his chair and regarded Dr. Abraham with gentle eyes.

“Dr. Abraham, your story is very interesting. But it’s not that easy, my friend. According to Jewish law, you have to convert in order to be circumcised. If you want to convert, you will have a very tough life. It’s not easy to live as a Jew.”

But these words didn’t discourage the young doctor. He felt prepared for the drastic change, for the tough life, if only to become part of a people that believed in One G‑d.

The years passed in a whirl of Hebrew studies and mitzvah observanceThe years passed in a whirl of Hebrew studies and mitzvah observance, learning and growing, community volunteer work, attempts at conversion and painful rejections. Still, Dr. Abraham and his wife, who by then shared her husband’s commitment, didn’t give up. When his dream of visiting Israel was fulfilled, the longing in his heart intensified, and yet his application for Israeli citizenship was refused.

Rabbi Gabi Holtzberg, joyful after finishing building the sukkah.
Rabbi Gabi Holtzberg, joyful after finishing building the sukkah.

But in 2003, an extraordinary young couple, Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivky Holtzberg, arrived in Bombay. “One of their boys was sick, and was brought into the hospital where I worked,” Dr. Abraham recalls. “It was Friday, and I saw Gabi felt strained. I understood that he was worried about Shabbat, so I offered to stay with the child. After Shabbat, he approached me with a thick bundle of Indian rupees, but I insisted that what I did was not for the money, but for Shabbat. He tried to push me to accept the money, but when I refused, he brought me a set of Torah books, a gift that became very precious to me.”

The Holtzbergs taught Aaron and Malka the Hebrew language and Jewish law. They wouldn’t make a move without consulting the Holtzbergs, spending every Shabbat and holiday in the Holtzbergs’ Chabad House. In 2008 Rabbi Holtzberg wrote a letter to the head of the conversion committee in Israel, vouching for the Abrahams’ sincerity.

“The Holtzbergs were totally devoted to Chabad and the Jewish nation. He always welcomed us graciously. ‘Come, bring your wife and children,’ he always told me. We built a sukkah together, celebrated Chanukah together, joined his Passover Seder. He was so kind to the Israeli tourists, the backpackers who were often robbed by the Indians. Rabbi Gabi helped them in every way; he provided shelter, food, money . . . whatever they needed until they received their immigration papers from the Israeli consulate.”

Many people returned to Jewish practice through Rabbi Gabi. Once, a young Israeli entered the Chabad House disturbed and depressed. He said to Rabbi Gabi, “Where is G‑d?” Rabbi Gabi heard his problems, assured him all would be well, and gave him a place to stay. This fellow stayed with Rabbi Gabi for about two weeks, observing the rabbi’s practice of Judaism. He prayed with Rabbi Gabi and put on tefillin daily. He left a different person, stable in mind and committed to a Jewish lifestyle.

“They never discriminated . . . they treated everybody equally”Another young Israeli tourist who suffered from medical problems once contacted Rabbi Gabi, telling him he wasn’t feeling well. Rabbi Gabi immediately went to visit him, brought him to the hospital, and paid the advance deposit of $300 to cover medical costs.

“They never discriminated . . . they treated everybody equally. Rivky worked tirelessly in the kitchen, preparing large quantities of food, supervising the dishes, personally taking care of everything.

“The Holtzbergs told us that when we move to Israel, they’d miss us terribly, but would share our joy. And then, this terrible, unfortunate terrorist attack happened. It’s a loss for everybody, but our lives were shattered.”

Dr. Abraham’s daughter, Sharon, playing with Moishie Holtzberg.
Dr. Abraham’s daughter, Sharon, playing with Moishie Holtzberg.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, an Israeli reporter formed a connection with Dr. Abraham and urged him to send his son, Shmuel, to Israel, where he arranged for him to learn in Yeshivat Machon Meir in Kiryat Moshe, Jerusalem. When the Abrahams’ aliyah—immigration to Israel—was finally approved, this same journalist helped the family find a place in his own city of Kiryat Arba.

My meeting with Dr. Abraham was coming to an end when an urgent look appeared on Dr. Abraham’s face. He leaned forward and told me, “Please write these words.

“If someone is sincere to G‑d, He will never forsake you, as my experience has taught me. G‑d sent me help through many angels, including Rabbi Gabi and Rebbetzin Rivky. It took me twenty years to come to live in Israel, so, please, never give up hope, and be sincere to G‑d’s will and His Torah.”