Shabbat dawns

The destruction of the Mumbai Chabad House in Mumbai, the murder of the emissaries who ran it and the guests who came there for Jewish comfort and warmth, was something unprecedented. And yet, the Jewish world had faced horrors before. So had Chabad. In 1956, Arab terrorists infiltrated the village of Kfar Chabad, Israel, and attacked the village’s vocational school, and killed one teacher and five students standing in the midst of silent prayer.

In the days that followed, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, wrote letters of comfort to the families of the victims and the shocked villagers. More than anything else, he encouraged them to build, to expand their devastated village, to double their efforts and find comfort through this work. The encouragement was not meant to be metaphorical.

“[You] should begin with vigor the construction of the new building of the yeshivah and other buildings in the village . . . ,” he wrote to the vocational school’s directors, who opened a new branch of the school called Yad Hachamisha, or “Hand of the Five.” A month later, the Rebbe announced he would send a group of yeshivah students to Israel as his personal representatives to uplift the broken spirits of his Chassidim and all of Israel.

Light continues to shine in Mumbai. Credit: Bombay Arthouse/

The aftermath of the Yad Hachamisha attack has for Chabad served as a blueprint for how to react to any circumstance of tragedy. The pain of Mumbai, deep and visceral—Moshe’s cries of “Ima” while holding an orange ball will never go away—was profound, but the response could only be the same, albeit intensified.

That Friday morning at the press conference in New York, Krinsky issued a public call on behalf of Chabad-Lubavitch:

“As the Shabbat approaches,” he said, speaking, through the international media, to the world, “we call upon Jewish women and girls to brighten the profound darkness the world is witnessing, and usher in the Shabbat by lighting the traditional Shabbat candles, 18 minutes before sunset. I am certain that this would be Gaby’s and Rivka’s wish.”

It was perhaps not uncoincidental that Krinsky had been a member of that same delegation sent by the Rebbe to Kfar Chabad a half-century earlier.

“This is the time to take strength,” an emotional Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos, who had been in close contact with the Holtzbergs, said at the Holtzbergs’ gut-wrenching funeral the next week. “This is not the time to ask questions, this is not the time to think, this is the time to do … Such brutal darkness can only be fought with torches, with torches of goodness and kindness and light … ”

Ten years later

Erin Beser, in Turkey volunteering with the JDC, had followed the news out of Mumbai as close as she could. She still had plenty of friends there; JDC volunteers in the city had been evacuated on Thursday evening, and a group of Indian Jews she knew had gone down to the area near Chabad House to try to see what was going on and if they could help.

Learning that day that the Holtzbergs were gone “was surreal,” she says. People around her in Turkey knew that she had been in Mumbai and had personally known those killed, offering her condolences. Still, what had actually happened has never fully registered. “In a way, for me, they’re still there,” she says, “but that place doesn’t exist.”

The Holtzbergs changed countless lives during their short time on earth and even more after their deaths sanctifying G‑d’s name. The coming months will mark 10 years since their murder, but also the 10th birthdays of hundreds of boys and girls named after them, and the 10th anniversary of donning tefillin every day or lighting Shabbat candles every week for innumerable Jewish men and women. A Jewish day-school scholarship fund named for Gabi and Rivky in Portland, Ore., will celebrate a decade of existence, and a Shabbat-meals delivery project in their memory in British Columbia will do the same.

Beser knew that the anniversary was coming up. Her 10-year Indian visa recently expired, which meant this round date was approaching. Today the director of community learning and engagement at the Jewish Community Project Downtown in Manhattan, Beser constantly draws lessons from her time in India.

Rabbi Uri and Mushki Bloy will soon move to India to assist with Chabad of Mumbai’s activities. Credit:

From Gabi and Rivky, and her time at Mumbai Chabad, “I learned to trust Jews very different than you,” she says. “And to be really welcoming, radically welcoming.”

With the passing of years, certain details crystallize. How young Gabi and Rivky were, how difficult their lives had been, and how much they accomplished in such a short time span. Beser had had a deep respect for Rivky Holtzberg since her time in Mumbai, but it was getting married and having her own child that drove it all home.

“She was an amazing woman and person, with a such a tremendous faith in G‑d,” says Beser. “I’m a mother now. I think about what she went through, how brave she was, and how much I would have loved to tell her about my son.”

That’s another thing that comes into focus again on the decade anniversary of the Mumbai attacks: how deep the loss was, and how big the shoes to be filled.

This article originally appeared on News.