In the hours following the tragic news that six people perished inside the central Chabad-Lubavitch center in Mumbai, India, Jewish women across North America heeded a call to light Shabbat candles in the merit of those whose lives were cut short. This coming Shabbat, more than six-thousand college students will continue that drive and unite as part of an emergency “Mitzvot for Mumbai” campaign launched by the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

The drive, which features a Web site packed with unique ideas and a way for participants to pledge a good deed in memory of the victims and invite others to join in, will continue throughout the coming weeks and months. Campus-based Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and student leaders will place a special focus on lighting Shabbat candles, helping the elderly, giving charity, learning Torah, and encouraging Jewish men to don tefillin. The site can be found at

“We’re encouraging everyone to do more acts of goodness and kindness to bring more light into the world in response to recent events,” said Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, executive director of the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

As the sun set last Friday evening, two previously unknown students knocked on the door of the Beis Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center serving the University of Maryland. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and one of the pair was in town from Nashville, Tenn., where she attends Vanderbilt University. After hearing of the horrific deaths of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the directors of Mumbai’s Chabad House; kosher supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum and Bentzion Kruman; Israeli grandmother Yocheved Orpaz; and Mexican citizen Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, the young woman just had to find the address of College Park, Md.’s local Chabad House.

“After what happened in India, I needed to spend it with Chabad,” she told Rabbi Eli and Nechama Backman.

Similar stories took place at Tel Aviv University. Even though Shabbat had entered before the official news broke of the six deaths, local students looked to the Chabad House directed by Rabbi Shaye and Chava Gerlitzky for comfort. At the Friday night dinner, they decided to collectively do something positive.

On Monday night, the group held its first beginners’ Talmud class in memory of the Holtzbergs and the more than 195 people who were killed in India’s worst terror attack in history. A Torah class for English-speaking students will be held later this week.

The choice of Torah study was appropriate, said Shaye Gerlitzky, given Gavriel Holtzberg’s profound Jewish knowledge. By his middle teens, the future rabbi had already committed vast sections of the Talmud to memory.

“Even after we finished studying for the day, he didn’t go to sleep,” said Gerlitzky, who was a yeshiva classmate of Holtzberg’s. “He was always looking to do more.”

Channeling Grief

Directors at the more than 100 campus-based Chabad Houses throughout the world found in the creation of the Mitzvot for Mumbai campaign a way to channel the tremendous grief of people worldwide into a catalyst for positive action.

“This global campaign of goodness and kindness encourages students to commit to at least one more mitzvah, thereby turning darkness into light,” said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life serving the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Each campus-based Chabad House is holding a memorial gathering this week in memory of all of Mumbai’s victims, and the Holtzbergs in particular. Students will unite in their memory and recall the lives that ended too soon.”

“These attacks have left people of goodwill feeling particularly numb,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation. “The pain, however, should serve as an inducement to redouble our efforts to spread goodness and light.”

Since the attacks, many students have shared stories of their chance encounters with the Holtzbergs, who for five and a half years served Mumbai’s local Jewish population and thousands of visiting businesspeople, Israeli backpackers and tourists.

Ben Bokser of New York wrote of how he and his family shared a Shabbat meal at the Mumbai Chabad House four years ago.

“We were struck by how nicely the Chabad [couple] fit in with the local Jewish community. Rav Gavriel attended the local synagogue, which was fully functioning,” said Bokser, a Yale University student who at the time spent the day learning and talking with Holtzberg.

“I was able to connect to them both,” he said. “During that day alone in India, they helped me feel very much at home.”

Looking to the greater Chabad on Campus campaign, Manya Lazaroff, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center serving Texas A&M University, has called on every Jewish woman in the area to light Shabbat candles and to encourage another to do so as well.

“I made an emotional, unabashed request last Friday,” she said. “I’m reminding everyone to keep at it this week and to continue in the future.”

Rachel Rosen, a student from China Springs, Texas, lit Shabbat candles with her mother.

“I feel like it helped me feel closer to everything,” said Rosen. It was “a moment for myself to reflect and hope for the better.”