Rabbi Nachman and Freida Holtzberg, whose son and daughter-in-law Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were murdered along with four others at their Chabad-Lubavitch center during the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, embarked on a four-day speaking tour of London to share with audiences their message of hope and faith in the face of tragedy.

Addressing Jewish communal institutions throughout the city, the Holtzbergs’ tour was designed to raise awareness and support for the efforts currently underway to rebuild the Chabad House in Mumbai.

On July 5, some 300 people assembled at Lubavitch House in Stamford Hill to hear Nachman Holtzberg speak at a Chasidic gathering in honor of the 12th of Tammuz, the anniversary of the 1927 release from prison of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

From the outset, Holtzberg made it clear that he wouldn’t deliver a eulogy to his fallen son and daughter-in-law, given the festive nature of the occasion. Instead, he focused on stories demonstrating the couple’s self-sacrifice in providing for Jewish residents, businesspeople and travelers throughout their adopted home of Mumbai.

“The ahavat yisrael of Gabi & Rivki was amazing,” said the father, using the Hebrew term for love of a fellow Jew, “but we should not wait until we are in Mumbai to have that” same spirit.

“We can do it in London too,” he added. “Do not wait until tragedy strikes, but do it now, in good health and spirit.”

Yisroel Nyman, a lawyer who attended the Sunday evening event, said that it was “understandable how Rabbi Holtzberg’s presence at the [gathering] would bring a sense of solemnity and even sadness.”

But, continued Nyman, “he emphasized that this shouldn’t be a sad occasion, and shared many positive and moving anecdotes from his son’s life that gave us a glimpse into his inner world. He challenged us to learn from Gavriel’s example and to aspire to strive to a greater level of devotion and self-sacrifice in our own lives.”

New Synagogue

The following day, the Holtzbergs attended a meeting of the local chapter of N’shei Chabad, the Chabad-Lubavitch women’s organization, at Beis Chana Women’s Centre in Stamford Hill.

Although they were previously scheduled to spend 48 hours in the local community before continuing on to Israel, the couple decided to extend their trip in order to meet the congregants of a Northwest London synagogue named in honor of their son.

“We knew they were flying off quickly after speaking in Stamford Hill, but we were adamant that we had to meet Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg to speak to them about our synagogue,” explained Rabbi Menachem Junik, director of Beis Gavriel synagogue in Hendon. “Thank G‑d, they were impressed by what we established, and agreed to extend their trip to speak to our members about Gavi and Rivki.”

On July 7, Nachman Holtzberg addressed congregants at the home of David Abramson, a founding member of the synagogue. A number of those present had travelled to India in the past, meeting the rabbi’s son along the way.

“When people spoke about their own memories of Gavi and Rivki, I realized how close to home this terrible event was, despite the geographical distance,” remarked synagogue member Adam Pomson. “Rabbi and Mrs Holtzberg’s determination to turn an act of hate and destruction into something positive and empowering shows the strength and resilience not only of themselves, but of the Jewish people as a whole.”

On their last day, the Holtzbergs met with community leaders, including religious judge Rabbi Chanoch Ehrentreu, who served for many years as the head of the United Synagogue religious court. They also attended a lunch-and-learn program at the global accountancy firm Deloitte, and sat down with students at a number of London’s Jewish schools.

“The terrorists tried to take something away from us,” Nachman Holtzberg told students and teachers at the Beis Yaakov Girls’ School. “And though it was an unspeakable tragedy, they did not succeed. Our faith and our spirit cannot be destroyed.”