ISRAELMoshe Holtzberg, the little boy miraculously saved from the Mumbai, India, carnage that last year claimed the lives of his parents, formally entered the world of Torah study Wednesday at a grand third-birthday celebration in Israel.

Known in Yiddish as an upsherin, the massive gathering in village of Kfar Chabad came one day after events around the world marked the first anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar, of the Mumbai attacks and the storming of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg’s Chabad-Lubavitch center. The couple and four of their Jewish guests perished inside, but Moshe’s Indian nanny Sandra Samuel spirited him out in the midst of the horror.

Samuel joined Moshe and his grandparents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg of Afula, Israel, and Rabbi Nachman and Freida Holtzberg of New York, for the celebration. Held inside a mammoth tent erected in front of Kfar Chabad’s life-size replica of Lubavitch World Headquarters, the event attracted a crowd of 2,000 invited guests and a gaggle of reporters.

(Rooted in Jewish mysticism, the largely Chasidic custom of delaying a boy’s first haircut until the third birthday is based upon the Torah injunction against eating fruit from a tree less than three years old. At the ceremony, a boy’s biblically-mandated side-locks are left intact, training the child in his first performance of a Torah command.)

Earlier in the day, the family visited the Holtzbergs’ resting place at Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery and cut Moshe’s first locks of hair.

By evening, the somber mood had turned joyful, with the addition of Chasidic singer Avraham Fried further underscoring the festive atmosphere. A birthday cake and presents rounded out the bash.

Elsewhere in the world, Jewish communities marked the anniversary of the attacks with several different memorial ceremonies. In New York, Chabad of the Upper East Side commemorated the occasion with inspirational speeches and an address from Nachman Holtzberg. The following day, guest speaker Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of the Rohr Jewish Student Center at Stanford University, addressed an audience at the Jewish Community Center in Victoria, Canada.

On Thursday, meanwhile, Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado hosted a musical tribute to the Holtzbergs at the Denver Art Museum. Future events include a Nov. 21 memorial ceremony at Chabad Beijing in Kings Garden Villa, and a Dec. 4 evening of “Solidarity, Support and Resolve for the Future” at the Chabad Loft in Manhattan’s Washington Square neighborhood.

Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg of Brooklyn, N.Y., carries his grandson Moshe on his shoulders for a round of dancing on occasion of the little boy’s third birthday.
Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg of Brooklyn, N.Y., carries his grandson Moshe on his shoulders for a round of dancing on occasion of the little boy’s third birthday.

Cake and a Haircut

In Kfar Chabad, hostesses fluent in a variety of languages greeted guests at the tent’s entrance, channeling the celebrants towards a wall of registration booths, where identification bracelets were quickly taped on to wrists and numeric-matched stickers bearing names and table reservations were handed over.

Inside, the tent appeared more like a New York City hotel ballroom than a hastily-assembled structure. Brightly polished candelabras with 12 and 24 branches, each bearing a softly glowing candle with a flickering flame, stood four or more feet high on every table. More than a dozen large video screens lined the walls around the tent, allowing guests a view of the proceedings at the podium.

An information manager said that thousands of people had requested tickets, but had to be turned away.

Fried, backed by an eight-piece orchestra, composed several new songs for the occasion. Many in the crowd fought back tears as the power of a fist-clenched Fried bolted out lyrics against a visual backdrop of flashing photos of the Holtzbergs playing with an infant Moshe.

From the podium, Shimon Rosenberg spoke passionately about the family’s struggle to make sense of the murders, and their determination to ensure that “the light of [the Holtzbergs’] mission should not be extinguished, but instead be multiplied into a thousand more points of light.”

Managed by Rabbi Naftali Lipsker, administrator of the Lubavitch Youth Organization’s branches in Israel, the program kept things on an even keel.

“This beautiful boy, this sweet child,” said Lipsker, “is a normal kid, but he has gone through a very, very severe trauma. Let us be cognizant of that fact, and let us therefore do our best not to overwhelm him tonight.”

As cameras panned the blue curtain that lined the women’s section of the tent, festooned with white and blue balloons spelling out “Moishy, three years old!”, the young star himself was led in, holding the hand of his nanny and one of his grandmothers.

The little boy seemed almost amused, and displayed a calm disregard for the crowd. He laughed and smiled at a remark made by a family member, and reached his arms up to his grandfather to be lifted to the golden loveseat, where he was placed in a standing position for his haircut.

Throughout the ceremony, Lipsker called out the names of the various guests who were given the honor of snipping a small bit of Moshe’s hair. The entire procedure took little more than half an hour, and afterwards, Mayor Avi Elkabetz of Afula presented the birthday cake with a flourish. A big smile, a small snip, and a birthday present almost as large as the little boy holding it brought the ceremony to a close. Nachman Holtzberg gathered his grandson in his arms and began dancing with the now short-haired boy, who clapped and laughed while Fried sang.

After Sandra took Moshe off to bed, a panoply of rabbinical leaders, including Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Yeruslovsky, secretary of the Chabad rabbinical court in Israel, took the microphone to bless Moshe and his family.

During his remarks, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Aharonov, chairman of the umbrella organization of Chabad-Lubavitch in Israel, asserted that the Mumbai terrorists had been unable to quench the light of the Holtzbergs’ mission or the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, that inspired their self-sacrifice.

Said Aharonov: “Their spirits and what they stood for, and what the Rebbe taught about Jews helping Jews all over the world, lives on.”