Beneath a starlit sky, throngs of weeping mourners returned the bodies of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg to the earth at Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives ceremony within view of the Temple Mount. Punctuated at times with the singing of somber Chasidic melodies, the burial service concluded a day of sorrow throughout Israel. A total of six victims recovered from Mumbai, India’s central Chabad-Lubavitch center were taken on Tuesday to their final resting places.

In the central Israel village of Kfar Chabad, thousands of people crowded in front of the life-size replica of New York’s Lubavitch World Headquarters for a three-hour memorial service for the Holtzbergs, who directed the Mumbai Chabad House for five and a half years. Sharing a dais with an Israeli governmental delegation and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Chabad-Lubavitch officials recalled the self-sacrifice of the Holtzbergs in caring for Mumbai’s local Jewish community and the thousands of businesspeople, Israeli backpackers and tourists who flocked to the Chabad House.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, vowed that their holy work would continue.

“We will avenge the deaths of Gabi and Rivky,” said Kotlarsky, who flew in from New York for the service, as did dozens of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from around the world. “But not with AK-47s, with grenades and tanks. We will add light. We will add good deeds.”

Speaking as someone with direct experience with what the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, urged in the face of tragedy, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky stated that the work of Chabad must not only continue, but grow.

Krinsky, chairman of Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational and social service arms, noted that 52 years ago, Arab gunmen killed five students and a teacher in Kfar Chabad.

“What was the Rebbe’s reaction to that catastrophic act?” asked Krinsky, who was one of 10 rabbinical students the Rebbe sent to give the village encouragement after the attack. “The Rebbe instructed that in continuing to build, you will be comforted.”

Pledged Krinsky: “We will continue to reach every single Jew until no Jew is left behind.”

A wail reverberated throughout the crowd when Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg cried as he revealed that his daughter was five months pregnant when the suspected Islamist terrorists who stormed her Chabad House snuffed out her short life.

“Rivky, Gabi, you were loved in your lifetime and in your death,” said the father, looking at the shrouded bodies laying on wooden benches beside him. “I promise that your mission will not be cut short, that your home will not be destroyed.”

At many times throughout the day, family members and Chabad-Lubavitch officials emphasized that the Holtzberg’s two-year-old son, Moshe, would always be taken care of financially and spiritually. His maternal grandparents traveled to India last week to bring him home with them, and also arranged for the Israeli government to allow entry to Sandra Samuel, the Indian nanny who courageously saved him from the Chabad House.

“For several days, the whole world has had to answer the question of a small child, Moshe, who is asking ‘Where is my mother?’ ” said Israeli President Shimon Peres at the service. “The world must answer why a wonderful woman like Rivka was killed, why a holy man like Gavriel was killed, and why Moshe was left an orphan.

“I was priveleged to see the Rebbe and to meet with him, and I know that the Rebbe would not let anybody despair, nor would he let anybody cast doubt,” he continued. “In this way, faith will triumph. But Moshe’s question is still awaiting an answer.”

For his part, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, chairman of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the worldwide umbrella of Chabad-Lubavitch, saw in the wake of the tragedy an outpouring of unity unseen before.

“Days and nights, people were glued to their televisions,” said Shemtov. “What the world saw was unprecedented: How just a few, 10 in number, were able to cause so much havoc, so much horror. [They] tried to accomplish a disconnect between morality and decency, and the human race.

“No one can know the ways of G‑d. But if 10 murderers can accomplish so much of their desire, how much more can be accomplished when all of us who were so concerned about the outcome [in Mumbai] act together in the positive?

“There is so much that unites us, and absolutely nothing that divides us.”

Around the same time as the Kfar Chabad service, families and friends of the other victims were burying their own dead. After a service in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, mourners accompanied the body of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum to the Mount of Olives. The scion of the Volover Chasidic dynasty and kosher supervisor had been in the Chabad House with Rabbi Bentzion Kruman when the terrorists stormed the building last Wednesday night. The pair were in India to supervise a mushroom packing facility.

Kruman, a native of Bat Yam, was buried at a cemetery in Petach Tikva after a service at the Bobov yeshiva where he learned Torah.

Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, a Mexican citizen who was just days from immigrating to Israel when she was killed at the Chabad House, was buried at the Har Hamenuchot cemetery at the entrance to Jerusalem. Yocheved Orpaz, an Israeli grandmother who was visiting India with her daughter and grandchildren, was buried in Tel Aviv.

Mourners place stones on the graves of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. (Photo: Tamar Runyan)
Mourners place stones on the graves of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. (Photo: Tamar Runyan)

Fond Memories of Murdered Couple

Following the service in Kfar Chabad, a procession transported the bodies of the Holtzbergs to the Torat Emet yeshiva in central Jerusalem’s Shikun Chabad neighborhood for another memorial at the place from where Gavriel Holtzberg first set out as a rabbinical student to visit Jewish communities throughout Thailand.

“I first heard about the Holtzbergs from my travel agent in India, who is not Jewish,” said one young woman who had come to the service in recognition for all the Holtzbergs did for her during a trip to Mumbai.

Another woman, Orna, was just one of the many Israeli backpackers who made the customary stop at Mumbai’s Chabad House in the midst of traveling through India. That was three years ago, and Orna’s memory of the Holtzbergs is still vivid. She particularly remembered the couple’s incredible kindness and energy.

Malka, a native of Ashdod, returned from India just one month ago.

“Everyone turned to the Holtzbergs,” she said. “If the local synagogue was lacking anything – if they had a question or if they wanted to study from a certain book and didn’t have enough copies – whatever they needed, they called Gabi. He never once let them down.

“I heard so much about them before I met them, and from what I heard I was shocked to discover when I met them that they were so young,” added Malka. “I couldn’t believe it, that they could be so young and have a young child and do so much for everyone around them. Rivka did not wait for people to call her and ask for something. She knew what was happening in the lives of the people who were around the Chabad House. If someone had a problem, she made sure to look after them and see they got what they needed.”

Speaking to the crowd as the bodies of the Holtzbergs arrived from Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, Rivka Holtzberg’s uncle and the chief rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, stressed the importance of Jewish unity in the face of the attacks, which killed more than 195 people throughout Mumbai.

“We are not Orthodox or secular. We are not Sephardim. We are not Ashkenazim,” he said. “We are Jews.”

At the Mount of Olives, where the Holtzbergs were carried after the conclusion of the Torat Emet service, people lined up to place stones and dirt on top of the new graves.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Freida Holtzberg said that the loss of her son and daughter-in-law was unbearable.

“I can’t believe it. It can’t be true,” said the mother. “I wanted to give them the whole world.”