Like meteors in the sky
They flash and then go by
We on earth suffer and cry
But life goes on we live and die
To G‑d’s bosom they do fly

I came to know Gabi and Rivky in December 2003. We have been in India as a family since 1920, originally from the Iraqi/Syrian diaspora.

Gabi and I instantly hit it off, a special bond laced with humor and serious commitment. He laughed when I told him I was sent to keep an eye on him and make sure he did not get into trouble. So prophetic when we witnessed the tragic events which unfolded.

My wife, Irma, and daughter, Veronica, were no less bonded with Rivky and the young ones. Irma was like a mother, and Veronica a sister. They remained close all along, even back in Israel, where Veronica is tending her twins.

While Gabi was the leader, the commando executing G‑d’s work, Rivky was his devoted wife, a mother, a symbol of a Woman of Valour.

They were blessed with Mendele, sweet little Mendele, whom I loved so much and gladly babysat when Gabi and Rivky had to attend an important evening engagement.

Yes, Mendele, a wonderful soul who died from a genetic disorder. And, in his usual forthright manner, Gabi found solace in believing that Mendele, having not completed his mission in his previous life, was now completing his mission in the remaining time before he returned to G‑d’s arms.

Gabi and Rivky knew that Mendele is in a better place. G‑d gives and G‑d takes, and we are mere mortals.

Gabi was young, ambitious, sometimes bullheaded in his zeal to overcome all impediments, a young man in a hurry. He said and exemplified the expression, “The word ‘impossible’ does not exist.”

There are many stories, and I will try to unfold a few, as I am sure that others have even more poignant instances of Gabi and Rivky’s benevolence.

At one time, he wanted our Indian Jewry to become kosher, and made arrangements to travel to Alibagh, which was across the sea from the Gateway outside the Taj. It was a chicken farm, and Gabi enjoyed relating to me about the 250 chickens he slaughtered every fortnight, sending them around the city, putting them in his own cold storage, and sending them by air to Goa or even the embassy in New Delhi. Subsequently he made arrangements at the local abattoir in Colaba.

There were instances of drug-related problems that affected Israelis, as they did other nationalities, and Gabi made sure every Tuesday to go to the local prison to minister and comfort and provide food for our Israeli inmates.

There was the case of the tsunami. Gabi was receiving frantic calls—panic-stricken parents from places such as New York, London, South Africa, Israel and Singapore—to please find out how their children were, as they were in the Andamans.

Gaby called me and said he needs a thousand dollars. I asked why, and he explained, and I told him: “You are crazy. It is not easy to get there—but go for it.” I told him, however, in jest, that if he finds nothing of worry, then he owes me a thousand bucks . . .

I believed in what he was doing—you need the “commando” spirit to deal with a world where innovation and creativity separate those who lead from those who follow.

He flew first to Chennai, and then got on the flight to the Andamans, where he met up with over 100 Israelis. “Why are you here?” they asked him. “We know nothing about the tsunami; we are not affected.” Gabi, in typical fashion, says: “Okay, in that case, each one of you put on tefillin and thank G‑d that you are alive . . .”

There was the story of Chanukah and the menorah.

He called me to say that he wants to celebrate Chanukah at the Gateway of India, the historical entrance to Mumbai, just outside the Taj Hotel which suffered such disaster recently. I told him, “You are crazy! We need to get clearance from the local authorities, the police, the municipality . . .” But it was an exciting venture, so we went all out, and we did it. We arrived by horse and carriage, and had a wonderful celebration at the Gateway, joined by Rabi Shimon and Judith (Rivky’s parents), who were present together with 100 Indians who wanted to join the revelry coordinated by the Yehudi (Jew) of Mumbai. (We are known in India, for hundreds of years, as “Yehudim”—those who emanate from the tribe of Judah.)

Once, we went to Alibagh to visit the synagogue. It was a Sunday, and Rivky was pushing Mendele along in his pram. Gabi and I came to the synagogue, but the outer gate was closed. Gabi just said, “Let’s jump over the wall,” which was six feet high. A very minor impediment when you consider what he faced throughout his five-year period in Mumbai . . . Later he visited again and interacted with the synagogue’s members.

Gabi and Rivky first lived in one room, with a flimsy division on one side, the bed with the baby’s cot the other side, and a table with books where we spent Shabbat together.

The next residence was Shelleys Hotel. This time he had a rooftop two/three-bedroom apartment. I told him that I am surprised how Chabad could afford a penthouse . . . It was a joke, of course, and he promptly replied that he needed the space to expand G‑d’s work and bring the community together—the locals as well as the Israeli and foreign Jews.

Rivky and Gabi’s home was open to everyone, backpackers (India has 40,000-plus Israelis traveling around the country annually), diamond merchants, IT specialists, Chabad rabbis passing through to learn how he was coping with Indian conditions—people from all over the world: London, New York, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong. An international “home away from home,” it was a place where they came to enjoy the festivities of Shabbat, the use of the Internet, take religious advice, seek for children in jail. This was Gabi and Rivky. This is Chabad.

His dream was to have his own building, a Chabad House which would be a center for all activities, and this is how he procured Nariman House, which was so much in the news and is now a wrecked shell of what it once was.

He called me and said, “I need 1.5 million dollars. I have a fantastic deal for a Chabad Center.” I asked him from where he expects to get the money. His answer, typical of him, was that G‑d will provide . . . So we go into the details. It was a good deal at the time, but the market was jumping and so did the owners. But even at the increased price, it was still a good deal, and he asked for my guarantee—and so the Chabad House was born. I even suggested to the owner that if he reduced the final price by $100,000, we would make him a member of the Chabad Club . . . I believe he did visit once or twice and shared the fare.

It was a five-story building that contained a residence for Gabi and Rivky, a large kosher kitchen, an assembly room, a room for worship, Internet facilities, reasonable well-structured accommodations, and on the ground floor, an open area used for the High Holidays. This is where I shared my last visit with him during Sukkot.

He proudly showed me around. He took me to the rooftop (where the Indian commandos landed) and proudly pointed out the Taj, where I regularly stay. I promised him a telescope to survey his domain, but sadly I was amiss on this . . .

One can also relate many more stories about the mikvah, which initially caused problems.

Every Shabbat eve he would have his congregation of 30 or 40, on average, around the big U-shaped table, replete with stories, singing beautiful songs, starting with “Adon Olam.” There each guest would relate their story, who they were and what they were doing in India, or they would sing a song. I recall the many times I participated, and he referred to me as the first Mumbai Chabadnik . . .

There were times when he ran out of rice and gave me a call. I then called my friend Prem Garg of Lal Mahal Basmati, and in a few days there were 20 kilos or more of top-grade Indian basmati rice. He insisted on meeting Prem Garg, which did happen, and ever since, Prem’s name became Mr. Basmati . . . These were the little stories, anecdotes which make life warm and colourful.

The Mumbai Jewish community consists mainly of Bene Israel, numbering 5,000–6,000 all over India, with close to 3,500 here in Mumbai, belonging to eight synagogues—the first going back to around 1860. They admired and loved Gabi, and at the synagogue service on Monday, December 1, 2008, the eulogies spoke for themselves—with hundreds of men and women present to pay their respects to two wonderful souls.

We must also talk about Moishie, Gabi and Rivky’s youngest son. And Sandra, who came into the family early in their arrival to care for the children. They all loved her and became attached to her; she is such a loving person. And initially, when Gabi and Rivky could not afford to keep her on the residence, she relayed to me that it took more than two hours every day to go to her home, come back to work at Chabad House, return, and so on—but never a complaint.

I myself was one of the lucky ones who departed from the Taj Mahal Hotel just twenty minutes prior to the terrorists’ onslaught, as I was attending a private dinner at the home of Orna Segev, the Israeli Consul General in Mumbai. This saved my life, but my role as a “helper” continues for the family and for the new Mumbai Chabad leaders—in my small way, to keep a watch over them.

G‑d rest their souls in peace, and we will perpetuate what they have done in a brief span of five years. Yes, the wonderful achievements by both Gabi and Rivky, who touched everyone’s heart and have left a hole which can never be filled.

It is my profound regret that I did not spend more time with Gabi studying the Tanya and writing letters to the Rebbe at his behest—but he knew I was always within reach by phone call or e-mail, and would rush back if needed.

Another story:

It is clear that Gabi continues his contact with me even now, because there I was attending the funeral and eulogies in Kfar Chabad, Israel, where over 10,000 people were present. I was holding the Mumbai Chabad House model in my arms—it was left with me by Rabbi Shimon, Rivky’s father, for safekeeping, and I thought he would like to have it back; but he told me to keep it and I would deliver it later.

I then found a seat among the mourners, next to a young man who promptly asked me if I had just come from Mumbai. He started sobbing uncontrollably, and then said that only three days prior to the brutal attack on the Chabad House he was having dinner with Gabi and Rivky, and he saw this model on Gabi’s desk. “It is truly a miracle that it was saved,” he said. “But how come you have it? Who are you?”

When I told him that I was Sam Marshall, he said, “But Gabi spoke so much about you and your involvement with him and Chabad, and what he was trying to achieve!” I then asked him who he was, and it turned out that he was Rabbi Tzvi Rivkin, the new Chabad emissary to Bangalore. I told him that Gabi had mentioned to me about Tzvi’s plan to have a Chabad center there, as there were already 40 Jewish families in Bangalore. And, I told him, it would be my privilege to do whatever I could do for this center.

Very strange, but not so strange, because Gabi always had a way to get hold of me . . . And I will certainly do whatever I can to help Chabad Bangalore to become an institution in similar manner to Chabad Mumbai. This is my privilege and duty to the departed souls.

Samuel Marshall