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Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Bentzion was slumped over a Talmud'

Nov. 30, 2008
Tovah Lazaroff , THE JERUSALEM POST

Bentzion Chroman, who survived an earthquake in China earlier this year, was killed when a terrorist invaded the Mumbai Chabad House where he had stopped briefly on Wednesday for the afternoon minhah prayer. A Zaka rescue and recovery organization spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that Chroman was found in the library slumped over an open Talmud.

On Saturday night, hours after hearing of Chroman's death, his relative Binyamin Fogel told the Post that the presence in that building of his beloved friend was entirely accidental.

Chroman, 28, had gone to India at the request of his friend, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, to help supervise kashrut. Teitelbaum was also killed in the attack.

"Bentzion was not supposed to be there. But [Teitelbaum] asked him to go as a personal favor," Fogel said.

They had been scheduled to head out earlier this month, but the short trip was delayed to last week as a result of visa problems. The pair were scheduled leave India on Thursday so they could be back in Israel for Shabbat.

On Wednesday, Teitelbaum called his wife to say they were going to the Chabad House to pray.

At the family's Bat Yam home, Chroman's wife initially did not even know that her husband was in the Chabad House. At home with three children - aged five, two and eight months - she began to worry when she could not reach him. News of the attack only made her more anxious.

Her fears and that of her family were confirmed when contact was made with Teitelbaum's relatives and they learned that the two men had been in the building at the time of the attack.

"There was so much misinformation," said Fogel. Initially they were hopeful that maybe the men had left before the attack and were hiding somewhere, unable to call.

But the reports they head from Israeli officials and people on the ground in India continued to paint a bleak picture. Someone checked at the men's hotel and confirmed that they had not been there since Wednesday.

By Friday, it was clear that they were probably at the Chabad House. Right before Shabbat the family spoke with an official from Foreign Ministry who said that nothing was known yet, so the family entered Shabbat without any word on Bentzion's fate.

They prayed for the best over Shabbat, even as some of the visitors to the Bat Yam home told them that the death had been reported on the news.

Official word, however, did not come until Saturday night, said Fogel.

"During Shabbat we lived with the hope that we would have good news," he said. But as night descended on Saturday and they parted from the Sabbath, their worst fears were confirmed.

During the ordeal, Chroman's parents had been on a trip to the United States with one of his brothers to attend a wedding in New York. Although Chroman was born in Israel, according to Fogel, his father is from Chicago. He believed they heard the terrible news before the start of Shabbat there and were now trying to get on a flight back to Israel.

"I still do not believe that he won't return," said Fogel, who last spoke with Chroman on November 20.

He recalled how proud Chroman was of his oldest son, who was just learning to read and study in school. "Bentzion was a very special person. He was so happy."

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