06 December 2008

Honoring Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg, Martyrs of the Jewish People Who Died in Mumbai

Copyright © 2008, R. Kossover
Originally published in Desicritics.org,
3 December 2008

As Mumbaikars mourn their many dead and comfort their many injured, Rabbi Holtzberg and his pregnant wife were buried in Jerusalem today.

It may not be clear what the Haba"d does or why. Let this tale from my own life be an illustration.

When I was living on the streets of Saint Paul twenty-five years ago, there were barely any Jewish agencies to help homeless Jews. But there was the Haba"d House. On a cold winter day I walked from downtown to a large residence in the Highland Park neighborhood and knocked on the door. I was tired and hungry. I was welcomed in as though I were a lost son.

The rabbi didn't care that I didn't know what blessings to say over the food (I do now). The rabbi didn't care whether I was dressed as he deemed a Jew ought to dress. He didn't care that I had not said the afternoon prayer or the evening prayer. None of this interested him. The Rabbi offered me food. He was concerned that I had not eaten a decent meal, and insisted on feeding me a decent meal. He asked how it was that I came to be homeless. The story was simple and I told it to him.

I ate, drank some soda. I ate some more. When I was satisfied and full he made his proposition: if I wanted, he would pay for my transport to study Torah, Talmud and all the things a Jew should concentrate on learning. This would be either in Jerusalem or in Brooklyn. I was interested. I wanted very much to go to Israel. But I didn't want to grow the beard I had shaven off in law school; I already had a streak of white hair in my beard from the spot I had pulled at and pulled at in tension trying to comprehend principles in case law. I had forgotten how to wrap tefillin around my arm and head and it embarrassed me terribly (I know now). And most of all, as nice as this guy was, I didn't want to lose my intellectual independence.

So I thanked the rabbi, and told him I would get back to him with an answer in a few days. I never did. He knew he had not made his sale. But, nevertheless, he paid for a motel room for me to sleep in. I showered, and shaved and cleaned all the dirt from the street off of me. I watched cable TV. The next morning I was a homeless bum again.

This rabbi did for me what Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, z"l, hy"d (may their souls be remembered for blessings and may G-d avenge their blood), did for thousands and thousands of Jews passing through Mumbai. They served kosher meals, they explained Torah and Law and tried to do with each of these Jews what the rabbi at the St. Paul Haba"d House had attempted to do with me - to draw me closer to G-d. They gave them a place to sleep and rest their weary heads.

That is their mission. That is the mission the Lubavicher Rebbe gave them many years ago - to reach out and get Jews to perform mitzvót - commandments and good deeds - and thus draw them to G-d bit by bit. If asked, they will explain to non-Jews the Seven laws of Noah, which we Jews believe to be universal laws binding all of mankind. But they will not proselytize nor attempt to convince a non-Jew to become a Jew, nor will they preach the Seven Laws of Noah.

Last week, terrorists, whose actual aims remain unclear, tortured and murdered Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg along with seven other Jews at the Haba"d headquarters in the Nariman House in Mumbai, a place they had carefully targeted. Just before Indian Commandos liberated the Nariman House, they murdered Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg. His body was found still warm. And that is why they were buried today. Another couple will continue their work in Mumbai. The Haba"d will not be deterred by the evil of a terrorist. They will light not merely a candle in the darkness, they will light a torch to drive away the darkness.

This link is a You tube video of an Israel National News report of the funeral of Rav Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg, zikhronám l'brakhá v'HASHEM y'nakém damám. It is about eight minutes long. I ask you to watch. It says more than this Jew in the mountains of Samaria can, no matter how hard he tries. Rav Holtzberg and his wife Rivka are survived by their son Moshe; may he become a great man in Israel.

ברוך דיין האמת


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