From Jewish community centers to high-school auditoriums, hundreds of memorial services throughout the world concluded that the best response to the darkness of terrorism is the shining light of a groundswell of good deeds. They brought together Jews from all walks of life as Chabad Houses, synagogues, Jewish Federations, national Jewish organizations and other local bodies united in the wake of tragedy. Shedding tears over the lost of more than 190 people, college students held impromptu gatherings where they prayed for the victims and lit candles.

At one Los Angeles service, Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, directed his remarks to the supporters of terrorism and those who bankrolled, trained and helped the estimated 10 Islamist terrorists who perpetrated last week’s series of attacks on tourist centers in Mumbai, India – including the city’s Chabad-Lubavitch center. He vowed that they would not succeed in their quest.

“That one cruse of light that emanated from the Chabad House in Mumbai has contributed more to humanity than your whole ideology and your whole way of life,” said Hier, borrowing imagery from the upcoming holiday of Chanukah. “And the Jewish people, whom you seek to destroy, will still be here long after you and your haters have been deposited in the dustbins of history, where you belong.”

More than 1,000 people from all walks of life attended the service, which partially blocked traffic outside the West Coast headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch. A range of speakers called attention to the self-sacrifice of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who for five and a half years catered to Mumbai’s local Jewish community and the thousands of businesspeople, Israeli backpackers and tourists who visited their Chabad House. They also pointed out that kosher supervisors Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Rabbi Bentzion Kruman; Israeli grandmother Yocheved Orpaz; and Mexican citizen Norma Shvartzblat Rabinovich weren’t simply unlucky victims felled by a gunman’s wrath: They were targeted simply for being Jewish.

Dr. Sherwin Isenberg, an ophthalmologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who conducts research in India, told the crowd that he visited the Holtzbergs the Shabbat before their death. He described them as a generous couple who filled their home with grace and warmth. Characteristic of that spirit, the rabbi was teaching about the Torah requirement to treat animals compassionately when Isenberg came by.

“Here was a brilliant and dedicated rabbi preaching [about] how we should be humane to animals,” said the professor, “only to be massacred by human animals four days later.”

Torah and Unity

Thousands of miles away in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, Rabbi Shraga Sherman, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Main Line, called on the hundreds of people who packed his sanctuary to standing-room only capacity Wednesday night to make positive resolutions and follow through with them.

“In the same way that Gabi and Rivky dedicated their lives to helping others, so too, we must do all that and more,” said Sherman after screening a tribute video to the Holtzbergs produced by Jewish Educational Media. “That is our responsibility, since there are so many innocent lives taken who can no longer do it for themselves.”

At Harvard University, senior Peter N. Ganong told the students, faculty members and Cambridge, Mass.-area residents who had gathered at their campus-based Chabad House Tuesday night that the Holtzbergs’ home and community center was among the most welcoming of places in the world. The service was co-sponsored by the local Hillel chapter.

They “ran a home away from home,” said Ganong, according to The Harvard Crimson. The network of thousands of Chabad Houses “are outstanding places.”

In Berlin, where a previously scheduled dedication of the Rohr Chabad Center’s new ritual bath became a statement of Jewish continuity in the face of tragedy, Rabbi Yossi Jacobson, the editor of the Yiddish Algemeiner Journal, called the new mikvah a “tribute to the holy souls of Gabi and Rivka.” (A separate memorial service for the Mumbai victims took place Tuesday night.)

“How should we go on?” echoed Rabbi Yehuda Tiechtel, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin. “The answer is this mikvah. The terrorists can only threaten us physically, only materially. But our spirit will live on.”

Like many around the world, the Los Angeles ceremony called attention to the self-sacrifice of the Chabad House directors in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Mushka Lightstone)
Like many around the world, the Los Angeles ceremony called attention to the self-sacrifice of the Chabad House directors in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Mushka Lightstone)

In Chicago, the local Jewish community held an “evening of tribute and solidarity” that included rabbinical leaders and Deputy Israeli Consul Gershon Kedar as speakers.

Hundreds more gatherings took place in Pittsburgh – where the Chabad House serving the University of Pittsburgh joined with Hillel for a candle-lighting ceremony – New York City, Seattle, and most points in between. Services in London, Mumbai, Moscow and Israel drew a combined total of thousands.

Back in Los Angeles, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Coast, delivered an impassioned call for Jewish unity. Other speakers included Sheriff Lee Baca, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, City Councilman Jack Weiss, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan and Jewish Federation president John Fishel. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the service by telephone.

“You thought you would do us in,” Cunin said to the perpetrators of the attacks. “But we, the Jewish people – we who believe in light – shall continue.”