As many of you know, my company is headquartered in Mumbai. During the past four plus years of regular travel to that great city, I was blessed with spending time at Chabad Mumbai and getting to know Gavi and Rivka Holtzberg. Many of my friends and family have asked me about the recent terrorist attacks, and about Chabad and Gavi and Rivka specifically. I thought I’d take a few moments to share a bit about them, and the community they created and led.

I didn’t go to Chabad every trip I took to Mumbai, but whenever I did go, I felt at home, part of the community of Jews and Israelis – a friend, a family member. During 2005, I spent three full months in Mumbai during the course of three trips. From my very first night at Chabad in March 2005, Rivka knew my name, what brought me to Mumbai (business of course) and greeted me each time by asking me why I don’t come every night. Remembering that our office was close by, and that I often worked very late, she regularly suggested that I simply come over for dinner from the office to take a break, and then go back to the office to work into the night.

And when I did come, she and Gavi were always glad to see me, and always welcomed me back. And after I brought my wife Jody in January 2006, every subsequent visit began with two questions: How is Jody? And why don’t we see you more often? They never preached, never suggested that I or anyone else practice Judaism in any particular way, and never judged. They simply wanted it understood that their home was always open, and I was always wanted and welcome. Until you’ve spent significant amounts of time many thousands of miles from home and family, you can’t fully appreciate having a place and a group of people that feel like your own, and Chabad Mumbai was that place for every Jew and Israeli who found himself in India, whether for a day, a week, a month, or indefinitely.

One Shabbat at Chabad Mumbai was especially memorable, and perhaps more meaningful than ever after the tragic loss of last week. In early 2006, Shabbat dinner at Chabad was especially crowded, with the terrace at the old Chabad practically full, mostly with Israelis. I was there with Jody and a friend, and Gavi asked everyone to introduce themselves one by one, and explain what brought them to Mumbai/India. One Israeli man, toward the end of his introduction, mentioned as an aside that he’d been a hostage at Entebbe, and then proceeded to finish his introduction.

The crowd almost simultaneously jumped out of their seats, and insisted that he tell the entire story. They took a chair and put him in the middle of the terrace, and for the next 20 minutes, fifty Jews sat absolutely silent on a rooftop in Mumbai, India, listening to the story of a man who, at age 17, had been an involuntary participant in one of the defining moments in the Israeli struggle against terrorism. And as we walked back to our hotel, even then we felt the impact of the moment, and of being a Jew in a global world. Then, and again now, I’m reminded that we are all responsible for one another, and all part of one family, with a shared history, shared joys and, tragically, shared enemies.

More recently, I was at Chabad Mumbai for Purim last spring. I had not been in India for many months, and Rivka and Gavi were especially gracious and welcoming. When we went upstairs for the Megillah reading, Gavi honored me by asking me to say the blessings before and after reading the Scroll of Esther. Certainly there were many others there who were regulars, and many people more religious than I am. But this was Gavi’s way of reminding me that it was good to have me, and that Chabad Mumbai would always be a home. And Rivka of course asked about Jody, and asked if I was coming for Shabbat!

The Taj Mahal hotel stands adjacent to the Gateway of India, a world famous monument at the harbor entrance. Each Chanukah, on the eighth night, Gavi would arrange to light the Menorah at the centre of the Gateway, so that all the locals could see the lighting ceremony, and all of the Jews start our celebration outside, with Jew and Non-Jew alike. Once lit, the Menorah was taken (candles ablaze) in a horse-drawn buggy down the main road back to Chabad, about ½ mile away. The buggy was filled with kids so that they could experience the thrill of the buggy ride AND a huge, lit Menorah all at once. That was Gavi, and that was Chanukah, Mumbai-style.

My son is the same age as Moshe, and we cannot begin to fathom the loss he will feel, and the loss already felt by his family. May he, and the Holtzbergs' entire family, be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

With hope for a peaceful 2009,

David Perla