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Mourning a Best Of

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein


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Rabbi Gabi and Rivkah Holtzberg gave up their lives in 2003. And the world celebrated.

That is because the life they gave up was their personal life, and the life they took on was that of public servants. In their move from Brooklyn to Mumbai they forsook any vestige of personal comfort or living. They were far from the amenities of western civilizations, the familiarity of family and friends, and the staples of an established Jewish community.

Reflecting the Torah’s first commandment to the world’s first Jew, "Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you", and heading the Rebbe’s call to care for every Jew, they asked not what Judaism can do for them, but what they can do for Judaism.

They traveled to a distant land, so that Jews could be close to Judaism.

In Brooklyn they would have continued to have easy access to Kosher food, but in India they worked hard so that others would have any access to kosher food. In New York they could continue to live in close proximity to tens of Jewish institutions, but in Mumbai they worked tirelessly to give a small community, a weary traveler and a traveling businessman a rare oasis for Jewish observance and learning. In Crown Heights and Israel they would have remained in the close circle of family and friends, but in Nariman House they made total strangers feel like family and friends.

The young Rebbe addressed the fragile movement: "In continued building will be their consolation".
As ambassadors of G-d and emissaries of the Rebbe their concern for the needs of their fellow Jews - most of whom they never met before, and many of whom they would never meet again - overshadowed any concern for personal interests or desires.

They lived on the frontiers even within an organization of pioneers. They stood out as heroes even amongst the heroes of the Rebbe’s army. They excelled as luminaries even amidst a movement of lamplighters. They were amongst our best and bravest.

But last week, on a November day in 2008, Rabbi Gabi and Rivkah Holtzberg’s lives were taken away. And this time the world mourns.

That is because this time their sacred and selfless lives were abruptly ended when they were murdered by terrorists in cold blood.

The contrast is so stark. The irony inconceivable. The wound so painful.

During the standoff, a UCSC alumnus who attended many a Jewish program at our local Chabad House called to offer his best wishes and blessings. During the course of our conversation he expressed the irony and tragedy of this attack. "Rabbi", he said, "how could these people attack a Chabad house? They obviously have no clue about what Chabad does. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife would have gladly offered these guys a piece of Challah and Gefilte Fish. But they bring the rabbi bullets and bloodshed".

In 1956, shortly after the decimation of the Holocaust and long before Chabad became a household name, the small movement experienced a big blow when terrorists entered the Israeli village Kfar Chabad and killed five school children and their teacher. Not unlike today, the shock and grief were paralyzing.

The young Rebbe addressed the fragile movement: "In continued building will be their consolation". The Rebbe immediately dispatched ten emissaries from New York to Israel. The village grew, and so did the movement. In the 50 odd years since then Chabad has become a Jewish icon and a universal phenomenon, with over three thousand centers in more than 73 countries around the world.

Surely Chabad in Mumbai, and Chabad general, will respond to this attack with renewed vigor and drive. There is no doubt in my mind that tomorrow will see a brighter day. But today, today there is a tear on my cheek. A tear from which I will have to water seeds of growth.

Today there is a deep crater in my heart and a black hole in the collective Jewish soul.

From which we must make light.

May The Omnipresent One comfort the victims' families amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. A fund has been established to care for Moshe, the two year old orphan-survivor, and to rebuild the Chabad House. To contribute go to


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Philosophy » Pain and Suffering

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
A loaf of bread. Usually refers to: 1) The section of dough separated and given to the priest (today that section is burnt). 2) The sweetened, soft bread customarily consumed at the Sabbath meals.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.