MUMBAI – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s final day in India swung from the poignant to the trivial on Thursday: unveiling a memorial to the 2008 terrorist victims at the Chabad House in the afternoon, and meeting Bollywood’s glitterati in the evening.
He also held two meetings with high-level Indian and Israeli businessmen, continuing one of the main goals of his five day-trip – drumming up business. Foreign Minister director-general Yuval Rotem said that the business and Bollywood elements of the day had the same objective: to greatly diversity Israeli-Indian ties beyond the traditional security leg that they have always stood upon.
At the Chabad House on Thursday, Moshe Holtzberg, the now-11-year-old saved by his nanny nine years ago during the terrorist attack there, recited a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life.
Jokingly, the shy boy with large white-framed glasses, also recited a blessing for Netanyahu for fulfilling his promise to bring him back to Mumbai.
Netanyahu made that promise during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel last year. “Prime Minister Modi invited me to India,” Netanyahu said at the time. “You’ll come with me to Mumbai.”
The carnage that took the life of Moshe’’s parents, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, who were serving as Chabad emissaries, took place on the fifth and sixth floors, which were their residence and have been left pretty much as they were found after the attack. Six other people were also killed in the attack.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, the director of Chabad in Thailand, said the idea in not refurbishing the two floors, where bullet holes and even a gaping hole caused by a rocket- propelled grenade are evident, is not to cover up the signs of the tragedy, but rather use it as a “catalyst.”
“Take the tragedy that shook the world, that gripped the world, and make it something to inspire the world, make it into a living memorial, not just the lighting of one single flame. Turn it into a building that will inspire people to commit themselves to universal morality,” Kantor said, speaking before Netanyahu.
“The people of Israel lives and will continue to live and flourish on the strength of their faith, love and actions, actions which are expressed in houses such as these,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu paid tribute to Moshe’s Indian nanny, Sandra Samuels, who – along with Moshe’s grandparents with whom he lives in Afula – accompanied him back to the Chabad House.
Soon after walking into the hall, Netanyahu sat next to Moishe, and gave him a kiss on the head.
“I see that you are developing and growing nicely,” he said. “Pretty soon you will be have a bar mitzva, and then later when you will start a family, please invite me. The people of Israel will accompany you the entire way,” he said Netanyahu said that what happened at the Chabad center was an expression of both the love of Israel and the hatred of Israel.
The hatred of Israel was evinced by the terrorists who murdered Moshe’s parents.
The love of Israel was expressed by those parents, who dedicated their lives to establishing a warm house for Jews in Mumbai, he said. And he said that love of Israel was also expressed by Samuels, “this wonderful woman,” who saved Moshe.
Netanyahu’s tone changed markedly in the evening, when he met some of Bollywood’s biggest names – actors and actresses, directors and producers – in an effort to get them to film in Israel. Bollywood makes more movies and sells more tickets each year, than Hollywood.
“You guys are a big deal,” he said. “The world loves Bollywood. Israel loves Bollywood. I love Bollywood.”
Netanyahu said Israel is putting its money where its mouth is, and before Modi visited Israeli last July, the cabinet passed a resolution to encourage Bollywood filmmakers to shoot in Israel. If there is a need to put aside more money, “we will do so,” Netanyahu said.
Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said studies have shown that whenever Bollywood makes a film abroad, tourism from India to that country increases. Promoting Israel ties with Bollywood, he said, “increases tourism and indirectly enhances diplomacy.”
Among those who attended the event were Amitabh Bachchan, one of the biggest names in Bollywood; his son Abhishek, and Abhishek’s wife, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, one of the biggest celebrities in the country and a former winner of the Miss World pageant.
The three met with Netanyahu privately before the event.
Other big Bollywood names present were the actor Akshay Kumar, and the director Karan Johar.