A year later, the rubble remains in Mumbai

A year later, the rubble

November 26, 2009 03:39
3 minute read.
chabad house mumbai synagogue 248.88

chabad house mumbai synagogue 248.88. (photo credit: Amy Chung)


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A year has passed, but the walls of Mumbai's Chabad House are still riddled with bullets - a solemn reminder of the carnage that claimed six lives, including those of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, whose toddler son, Moshe, survived the attack. Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz spent most of Wednesday, the eve of the anniversary of the November 26 terror attacks, showing visitors what had happened in the building on the day India's financial capital came under siege for 60 hours at the hands of the Islamist Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. The terrorists took over city landmarks, a hotel and the Chabad House and over three days killed 166 people. On Thursday, Jewish dignitaries and members of the victims' families are to hold a memorial service at the Chabad House. The bakery across the street from the Jewish center still has bullet holes in its walls, each one circled with red paint. A banner above reads: "We condemn the 26-11-08 terror attack." From the outside, the five-story Chabad House, located on narrow Hormusji Street in the Colaba area, looks like any other low-rise apartment, but as soon as you step inside, the destruction you see is unfathomable. "It still looks like a war zone," explains Berkowitz, who is the director of the Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund, which is helping rebuild what was once an oasis for Jewish locals and travelers who yearned for a piece of home in the chaotic streets of Mumbai. Walls blown out by grenades and rocket launchers have left the interior in a shambles. The walls were sprayed with bullets from AK-47 rifles, the staircases are practically destroyed, and glassless windows are patched with plastic tarp. "Every single window was shattered," said Berkowitz, pointing to the opaque sheets. Every floor has a story. The first floor kitchen, where hundreds of kosher dinners were served, was also the point of entry for the terrorists. To the left was a small corner room where Moshe's carriage still sits. Berkowitz explains how his nanny, Sandra Samuel, 45, took the two-year-old to safety. "They were shooting at her and thought she ran out, but she was hiding here," he said. The second-floor synagogue was where Moshe's parents, Chabad House director, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29 and his wife, Rivka, 28, were gunned down, along with two others - Rabbi Laibush Teitelbaum, 37, and Rabbi Bentzion Kruman, 26. "Every time I pass here, I have to say a prayer," said Berkowitz, motioning toward the handful of burning memorial candles placed on a mahogany desk. The prayer he offers is "Ani Maamin" from Maimonides: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry..." "Where is the outcry in this world?" he asks. "This is a religious site, religious leaders were murdered in cold blood here," he said. "Rivka was five months pregnant at the time." The third and fourth floors were the hostel areas, where Jewish backpackers and travelers sought shelter. David Bialka, 52, a diamond trader from Netanya, was the only other survivor besides the nanny Samuel. "He heard the gunshots and jumped out his window and escaped by holding onto the piping and the air-conditioning units," according to Berkowitz. "He was in the army and used his training and instincts." Yocheved Orpaz, 62, of Israel, and Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, 50, of Mexico, also died during the attack. The top floor was the Holtzbergs' private residence. The couple's bedroom is cordoned off, but Moshe's room, painted blue and yellow, appears almost unscathed, with his toys strewn about on a single pull-out bed. His high chair was the only item in the kitchen not destroyed. Moshe, who just turned three, is living in Israel under the care of his grandparents and Samuel. The Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund has raised almost $1 million for the orphaned child. Now, the organization is also seeking $2.5 million to rebuild the Chabad House, perhaps at the same site. For security reasons, the location of Chabad's current operations is not publicized. Thursday's memorial service can be viewed at 9 a.m. EST on www.chabad.org/news. To make a donation, visit: www.chabadindia.org.

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