Chabad: Vengeance through kindness

Six Mumbai victims laid to rest; Rivka Holtzberg's father: She was 5 months pregnant when murdered.

holtzberg funeral 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
holtzberg funeral 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The message from the funeral at Kfar Chabad on Tuesday was one of revenge - but not through violence. Rather, revenge that answers brutal, pointless Islamic terrorism with the light of loving-kindness. "I vow that we will avenge the deaths of Gabi and Rivki," announced Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Chabad's educational arm, from New York, referring to Mumbai emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. "But not with AK-47s, not with grenades and tanks. We will take revenge in a different way," Kotlarsky said. "We will add light. We will add good deeds. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish man who does not put on tefillin. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish woman who does not light candles. "And the Chabad House in Mumbai will be rebuilt and it will begin operating again," he said. Kotlarsky said the rebuilt Jewish center in Nariman House would named after the Holtzbergs. Thousands gathered in Kfar Chabad Tuesday afternoon to eulogize the Holtzbergs, who were murdered last week in Mumbai by Pakistani Islamists. Prominent politicians were in attendance, including President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and several Shas ministers and MKs. There were also several top officials of Chabad's leadership, such as Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, head of Agudas Hassidei Chabad International, the movement's umbrella organization. No one better symbolized the type of revenge promised by Kotlarsky than the Holtzbergs' two-year-old son Moishe, who was miraculously saved by the Holtzberg's Indian employee, Sandra Samuel. "Rivki, Gabi you were loved in your lifetime and in your death," said Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, Rivki's father, who turned to the bodies of his daughter and Gabi, which lay on wooden benches wrapped in shrouds. "I promise that your shlihut [mission] will not be cut short, that your home will not be destroyed. "The despicable murderers went into the rebbe's house to destroy it, but it shall not fall," Rosenberg said. "The child Moishie will be the rebbe's shaliach [messenger] and we will look after him. This Hanukka he will light a menorah in the Arc of Victory in Mumbai, and this will symbolize your shlichut. From here, from Kfar Chabad, the cry, 'Until when, until when' will spring forth. Rivki and Gabi, we love you!" Kotlarsky added: "Moishe, you have no mom and dad who will take you in their arms. You have no one to hold and kiss you. You will be the child of all of Israel." A new dimension of the Holtzberg tragedy was revealed by Rosenberg, who told the crowd, estimated at more than 15,000, that Rivki was five months pregnant when she was murdered. "They killed three people, not two," he said. Rosenberg and his wife have indicated that they will take over the Chabad House mission in place of their slain daughter and son-in-law. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a survivor of Buchenwald who lost both parents as a child, mentioned Moishe as the "beacon of light who will continue his parents' work." So did Kotlarsky, who said, "Little Moishe, [you] will return to the Chabad House when you are older. That will be your house, a place where you will find comfort and continue your parents' work." In addition to the disciples of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher rebbe, there were dozens present, perhaps more, whose lives were touched by the two young Chabad emissaries. There were smartly-dressed diamond merchants, long-haired hippy backpackers, businessmen, kashrut supervisors, and many others who, due to a myriad of circumstances, had ended up as guests of the Holtzbergs and enjoyed their hospitality. Whether it was kosher food, aid to Israelis who wound up in Indian prison for drugs, prayer with a minyan or just a bed, the Holtzbergs were there for travelers passing through Mumbai, said the many eulogizers, who included Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar. Still, the vast majority of mourners who came to accompany the Holtzbergs on their last journey were members of the Chabad movement, a vast and rapidly growing organization with representation in at least 73 countries, including potentially dangerous locations in North Africa, the former Soviet Union and India. About 4,000 couples are Chabad emissaries, making Chabad the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world. Chabad is not without its schisms, including an ongoing, occasionally violent, theological debate regarding the status of Schneerson, who died in New York in 1994, with some claiming that Schneerson is still "alive" and will soon reveal himself as the messiah. This theological split was evident in Kfar Chabad's synagogue Tuesday. Hundreds filed into the house of prayer after the funeral procession departed for Jerusalem. At the conclusion of the afternoon Minhah prayer, some declared, "May our master, our teacher, our rabbi the anointed Messiah-king live forever," while others refrained, looking on wryly. Among the sea of black hats surrounding the eulogizers there were yellow and black flags with a picture of a crown and the word "Messiah" printed on them in English, Hebrew - and Arabic. But at the Holtzberg funeral the theological rift was temporarily forgotten. Kfar Chabad's rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, called on Chabad followers to use the tragedy as a means of fostering unity. "There is one rebbe, one God and Chabad, and we all are working to prepare the world for the messiah," he declared. Tens of thousands attended the Holtzbergs' funeral on Tuesday night on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City. The four other victims of the Mumbai bombings flown to Israel - Bentzion Chroman, 28, Leibish Teitelbaum, 38, Yocheved Orpaz, 60, and Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, 50 - were buried separately at cemeteries in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv.