Young Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Kozlovsky have been married for four years and are the parents of two children. Two years ago, they undertook an especially difficult assignment as co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch in Mumbai, India, the city in which Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel (Gabi) and Rivka (Rivki) Holtzberg were killed in a terrorist attack on November 26, 2008, along with six other people.

Their goal is to continue the holy work of the Holtzbergs in the newly renovated, five-story Chabad center called the Nariman House, which reopened in August.

Yisroel and Chaya remember the massacre well. They hadn’t yet met each other, but each one was shaken by the terrible murder of the young Chabad couple.

“I remember that after the massacre, I thought that if I was married, I would want to go there and continue their work,” says Chaya. “I only told my husband about this recently, and he was amazed.”

Yisroel, for his part, had no such reaction. “Two years before the massacre, I went to help the emissaries of the Chabad House in Bangkok, Thailand. Gabi needed help and asked Rabbi [Yosef] Kantor, the emissary in Bangkok, to send him a few young men. I stayed in Bangkok, and said: ‘Anywhere but India.’ ”

Yisroel never dreamed that a few years later he, his wife and children would become emissaries to Mumbai.

Family Ties

Yisroel and Chaya grew up in similar surroundings in Jerusalem. Their parents came from religious Jerusalemite families that became attracted to Chabad and established thoroughly Chabad families. “We studied in Chabad schools, were educated in the path the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] laid out, and it was clear to us that we would grow up and become emissaries of the Rebbe,” they say.

Four of Yisroel’s brothers are emissaries, so the life is familiar to him.

It’s familiar to Chaya, too. Her late mother, Nava Bergman, worked for 10 years managing the office that channeled support from several Israeli agencies to Chabad emissaries in Moscow. She arranged for the shipping of food packages and other necessities. Nava put her heart into her job and was the address for every request made by emissaries in Moscow.

Nava Bergman put her heart into her job and was the address in Israel for every request made by Chabad emissaries in Moscow.
Nava Bergman put her heart into her job and was the address in Israel for every request made by Chabad emissaries in Moscow.

After the wedding of her oldest son six years ago, she didn’t feel well. She was diagnosed with cancer and passed away eight months later.

Chaya says she became an emissary thanks to her mother’s child-rearing and education. “She cared for the emissaries wholeheartedly. For years, her home was open to the daughters of emissaries who came to Jerusalem from all over the world to study. They lived in our house for free.”

Yisroel and Chaya were introduced to each other by a matchmaker five years ago, quickly concluding that they were well-suited for each other. They lived in Jerusalem after their wedding while Chaya, the oldest girl in her family, helped her father and siblings after her mother’s death.

Then it was suggested that they should become the emissaries in Mumbai.

Promise to Rebuild

“It was on Shabbat, the 18th of Elul. We were spending Shabbat with my father; Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, an emissary to Thailand, was his guest. He turned to my husband and suggested that he go to Mumbai to be the emissary there,” recounts Chaya.

Yisroel rejected the idea, but Rabbi Ashkenazi was stubborn, and asked him to speak to his wife. When Chaya’s father heard the idea, he said right away, without hesitation: “Take the position immediately.”

“His response astounded me,” says Chaya. “He knew that if we went to Mumbai, I wouldn’t be able to help with my brothers and sisters. Even so, he said that it was an opportunity and a tremendous privilege to reconstruct the Chabad House in Mumbai after the tragedy that took place there.”

On Sunday, the young couple met with Rabbi Yosef Kantor, the head emissary to Thailand and regional director who oversees Chabad activities in India, and with Moshe Rabbi Kotlarsky, in his role as vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Kotlarsky had emotionally eulogized the Holzbergs after the murders, promising that the Chabad House in Mumbai would be rebuilt.

Chaya Kozlovsky with women from the local Jewish community.
Chaya Kozlovsky with women from the local Jewish community.

“Ten days later we were in India, scouting out the place. We went back to Israel, where I gave birth to our oldest child,” named Nava after Chaya’s mother. The couple spent a few more months in Israel, moving to Mumbai in early 2014, just before Purim.

Before they left Israel, Yisroel and Chaya penned a request for a blessing that they sent to the Ohel, the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and prayed at the resting place in Israel of Gabi and Rivki, asking them to be advocates in heaven for the success of the Mumbai venture.

‘Rays of Light’

Yisroel says: “The first days were undoubtedly the hardest. We arrived at the end of the tourist season. There was an emptiness we had to fill. There’s a large community of businessmen who come here for a week every month. They come to us for kosher meals and to find a community with which to pray, but beyond that, we don’t see them. The day has to be filled with activities on behalf of the locals, some 3,000 Indian Jews.”

The Indian mentality is very different than the Israeli one, and there’s still a language barrier, explains Yisroel. Most of the year it’s frightfully hot, and their family is very far away. Every little activity that is easy in Israel becomes a project when it’s done in India.

So how do they manage?

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.
Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.

“The people who surround us are like rays of light,” says Chaya. “Our families are in constant contact. They are interested in us, they send us parcels, and they warm our hearts. They are our backbone.”

Yisroel also credits the support of the Rebbe’s emissaries in Thailand. “They help us with daily life. We can call them with any question or request, and they’re always there to help us, pleasantly and willingly.” The local Jewish community is also very warm, he says, and happy that the Kozlovsky family has come to the city.

During the first, hard moments, they acknowledge thinking about the Holtzbergs.

“We really admire them because of what they did here. They had to face challenges that we don’t have to face. No one was waiting at the airport to greet them; they didn’t have a Chabad House waiting for them; our challenges are dwarfed by the ones they must have faced.”

Daily Activities and Services

The daily activities in Mumbai include hosting and helping Jewish businessmen, making sure that there’s a minyan, maintaining a kosher mikvah, hosting tourists, and giving Torah classes to men and women. Yisroel also organizes kosher slaughtering, to provide enough kosher chickens for locals and visitors.

During the last two vacations, they organized a camp for children. Now they’re opening an afternoon kindergarten and a Jewish school. Chaya will teach the Jewish studies and the Hebrew classes, and local teachers will cover the rest of the subjects.

“Our youngest student will be our daughter, Nava,” Chaya says with a smile.

Rabbi Yisroel Kozlovsky speaking at the reopening of Nariman House in August.
Rabbi Yisroel Kozlovsky speaking at the reopening of Nariman House in August.

So what’s it like to be in the same position as the Holtzbergs?

“We are in contact with Gabi’s and Rivki’s parents, who support us and who are happy to hear that Jewish life is continuing here. Besides that, the locals are always telling us that we’re similar to Gabi and Rivki, and they tell us over and over again about how special they were.

“I don’t know if we’re actually like them in some way, or if it’s just the fact that we’re a young Israeli Lubavitcher couple that organizes Jewish events for them, and tries to invite them with love and a smile, that makes them think we’re alike,” says Chaya. “As far as we’re concerned, being like the Holtzbergs is the greatest compliment they can give.”

And what about security? Is it frightening to live where such a terrible tragedy took place?

“There is no anti-Semitism here,” replies Yisroel. “We don’t feel any hate when we walk in the street. It seems to me that the emissaries in Europe face much more anti-Semitism.”

Of course, he acknowledges, “we have a security company, and we’ve invested a lot of money in protecting the Chabad House in every possible way.”

Whatever the challenges, Yisroel and Chaya Kozlovsky plan to make sure that the beautiful new Chabad House will continue to provide an active, lively Jewish presence for both locals and visitors alike for a long time to come.