Chabad: We won't be deterred

"Gabi and Rivky gave up comforts of the West to spread Jewish pride... We will continue their work."

holtzberg 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy
holtzberg 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy
The worldwide leaders of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in New York mourned the deaths of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, discovered Friday after Indian commandos took control of the movement's center in Mumbai. The pair, who had been the movement's chief emissaries in India, were last heard from Wednesday, shortly after heavily armed gunmen stormed Chabad's Nariman House facility next door to a popular cafe that was among 10 targeted in this week's attacks. "We're going to miss him very dearly - he was a very special person, he and his wife were very special people," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Chabad's educational arm. His voice broke as he spoke to reporters at the Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood. Indian troops who cleared the Chabad building after rappelling onto the roof from helicopters found the bodies of two suspected terrorists and three other people whose identities were not immediately released. It was not clear when the victims died. An Indian employee who escaped the center with the Holtzbergs' toddler son Moshe - who turns two on Saturday - told reporters she saw them lying "unconscious" on the ground as she fled. The boy was reunited with his grandparents, who flew to Mumbai on Thursday. "Today he became an orphan, without a dad and mom to lovingly embrace him and celebrate with him," Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky told reporters, adding that the Lubavitch movement would guarantee the boy's upbringing. A second son, who was ailing, was with relatives in Israel when the attack occurred. A third child died earlier this year of a degenerative genetic disease. Krinsky also addressed the more than 4,000 Chabad emissaries worldwide, counseling them to remain brave in the face of adversity. "Keep strong and continue to forge ahead with courage and fortitude in the service of our people and mankind to make this world a better place to live for all," he said. "Nothing deters us," he added, after a reporter asked about whether emissaries would be afraid in the future to conduct the group's outreach activities. Chabad leaders declined to comment on security measures that were being put in place at their facilities, which dot the globe from Argentina to Vietnam. Kotlarsky said he last spoke to Holtzberg on Tuesday to finalize the details of a new center opening in Bangalore next week. "Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," Kotlarsky said. "As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started." Members of the movement gathered at the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters Friday hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath to pray for the families of the dead, joining dozens of volunteers who had been working the telephones and monitoring news Web sites since the attacks. The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the local Jewish community. The two ran a synagogue, offering religious instruction and helping people dealing with drug addiction and poverty, Kotlarsky said. Holtzberg "was the finest and nicest gentleman that you can imagine," a weeping Kotlarsky said at the news conference. "You never saw him without a smile ... he was always cheerful and greeted everyone pleasantly ... a real mensch." Gavriel Holtzberg's last known phone call was to the Israeli consulate to report that gunmen were in his house, the group's leaders in Brooklyn said. In the middle of the conversation, the line went dead. Twelve hours after gunmen stormed the center Wednesday, Sandra Samuel, a cook at the center, heard little Moshe's cries outside the room in which she had barricaded herself. She opened the door, grabbed the toddler and ran outside with another center worker. The little boy's pants were soaked with blood, and Samuel said she saw four people lying on the floor as she fled. Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with his parents when he was nine. He had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. Rivkah Holtzberg, 28, was a native of Afula, Israel. The couple had lived in New York before going to India. The Lubavitchers were one of many Hasidic groups that were uprooted from Eastern Europe by the Holocaust and came to the United States. They became the most outward-looking of the ultrareligious groups, constructing giant Hanukkah menorahs in public places, engaging in outreach among less pious Jews and building Chabad centers from Sao Paulo to Bangkok. The once-tiny sect has swelled in number and influence. Estimates of followers vary widely, ranging from the tens of thousands to a million or more. About 4,000 full-time emissary families direct more than 3,300 institutions around the world. In response to the Mumbai attacks, New York City police beefed up patrols around large hotels and Jewish centers, including the Lubavitcher headquarters, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. "This is indeed a very sad day," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at the news conference. "It is a reminder to all of us just how connected we are." The department already was on alert because of a warning earlier this week of a possible al-Qaida plot to strike the city's rail systems over the holidays. "I assure you that here in New York City, we are resolved to be vigilant," Kelly said.