With one of them speaking via pre-recorded remarks, Australia’s two leading politicians reached across the party divide Tuesday in a joint call to answer the horrors of terrorism with the steadfast determination to bring light to the world.

Addressing a memorial service hosted by the Sydney headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch of New South Wales, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the more than 1,000 people packed inside two standing-room only halls that the recent attacks in Mumbai, India, must not deter the quest to increase in acts of goodness and kindness.

“In the face of terror, we must not fear,” said Rudd in a message taped shortly before the ceremony, which specifically memorialized Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the directors of Mumbai’s Chabad House, where authorities discovered the murdered couple along with the bodies of kosher supervisors Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Rabbi Benzion Kruman; Israeli grandmother Yocheved Orpaz; and Mexican national Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich. The latest figures from the coordinated attacks on Mumbai tourism targets indicate a total of 171 people were killed and more than 300 injured.

“We must respond” to the tragedy, said Rudd, “by spreading our own message of tolerance for people of other backgrounds and beliefs.”

The memorial was unprecedented in terms of the Jewish community’s representation: Some 18 organizations, including the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, joined with Chabad’s Yeshiva Centre in sponsoring the gathering. Diplomatic officials attended, as well, including U.S. Consul General Judith Fergin and Deputy Israeli Ambassador Eli Yerushalmi. Indian Consul Yadu V. Dayal lit a candle in memory of all the victims.

“When we are left with no words and just tears, it is easy to become depressed, despondent or worse still, to try to forget,” said Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, director of the Yeshiva Centre, in his remarks. “But as Jews, we are taught to turn to forces that are beyond us that can offer us comfort.

“We are not meant to understand,” he continued. “We are meant to be outraged that such evil exists in our world. We are meant to do all we can so the world is filled with so much light that such a thing could never happen again.”

More than 1,000 people packed Sydney’s Yeshiva Centre for the memorial ceremony. (Photo: Nadine Saacks)
More than 1,000 people packed Sydney’s Yeshiva Centre for the memorial ceremony. (Photo: Nadine Saacks)

Sense of Community

Looking out at the crowd, many of whom had to watch the proceedings from monitors positioned around the venue, Australian Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull asserted that the attacks would not deter the work of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who travel the world to strengthen Judaism wherever Jews may be found.

“Tonight’s massive turnout is evidence that terrorism will never shake the inspirational work of Chabad,” said Turnbull. “Your passion for spreading” the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Yiddishkeit and brotherly love “to the four corners of the world is unbreakable.”

Barney Kitay, a local businessman who visited Mumbai, recounted his experience at the Chabad House.

“I was on a business trip, and during that time was also looking for the grave of my wife’s great-grandmother, who had lived in Mumbai and died in the early 1900’s,” he related.

Kitay found the resting place, and during a Friday night dinner with the Holtzbergs and dozens of their guests, told of his search.

“Rabbi Gabi was amazed by the story,” said Kitay. “He seemed to identify with the journey, himself having moved away from his family to live his life in Mumbai,” just as Kitay’s wife’s great-grandfather had done in the late 1800’s.

The Holtzbergs provided a “sense of community” to all of the travellers and local Jewish residents, said Kitay.

For his part, Feldman encouraged those assembled to “create a revolution.”

“Big or small,” he said as attendants passed cards around for members of the crowd to fill out and commit to one good deed, “revolutions always begin with one step in a new direction.”