By Athol Bloomer
St. Louis, Mo. (Catholic Online) -
As I write this here in the Hebrew Catholic Center in St Louis I am still in shock about the murder of the young Chabad Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzburg and his wife Rivka Holtzburg. In recent months I have been following the terrible persecution and killing of Christians in India by Hindu fundamentalists. The media hardly seems to mention what is happening. Now we see such violent Islamist terror attacks in Mumbai (or Bombay as most of us call it).
I learned on Saturday that one of the places attacked was the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai. Then, we heard of the little two year old son of the Holtlzbergs being safe but that his trousers were soaked in blood. Then a Carmelite nun of Jewish ancestry sent me the news report of the death of the Rabbi and his wife. As a Catholic Jew I felt the pain that all Jews are feeling at this time. It may be strange but there is a sense in which Jews share in the joys and sufferings of all other Jews. As someone who has known many Chabad Jews and studied with Chabad Rabbis and been fed by them at Chabad Houses I felt it more keenly perhaps than some.
Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were emissaries of the Lubavitch Chabad movement who gave up their homes and families in order to serve in far off India. They ran food programs, drug prevention programs, medical services, prison and hospital visitations and classes on Jewish learning among many other things. Now, this wonderful young couple, are dead and the world has lost two workers for the good and the light in a world growing darker.
While I didn’t know them personally I know others like them.
When I lived in Thailand I would attend the Synagogue and the Chabad House in Bangkok and I saw the dedication and commitment of the Chabad Rabbis and their families. I attend the huge Passover Seders at which everyone was welcome. They helped all in need not just religious Jews – secular Jews and non-Jews with no discrimination. Many Jewish communities around the world would have no Rabbis at all if not for the Chabad Rabbis who will go anywhere in the world to serve God and the Rebbe. For example an orthodox Jewish family I stayed with each weekend in the 1980’s assisted the Chabad in reviving the Jewish community in Tasmania that had almost died out.
They are known as the 'Black Army of the Rebbe' as they follow the teachings of the seven Rebbes of Lubavitch and especially those of their late Tzadik, Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. A Rebbe or Tzadik is the spiritual leader of a Hasidic group who follows the way of love, joy, simplicity and mercy in worshipping God as taught by the founder of Hasidism - the Baal Shem Tov of the 17th century. The first Lubavitch Rebbe was Schneur Zalman of Liadi known as the Alter Rebbe and the author of the mystical book called “Tanya”. He took the ‘heart’ teachings of Hasidism and introduced a more intellectual approach called Chabad.
Chabad stands for Chokmah(Wisdom), Binah (Understanding) and Daat (Knowledge) which represents the Divine Face of the Divine Man in Jewish mysticism. The seventh and last Rebbe of Chabad encouraged many young people to give their lives in the service of God and Judaism by becoming emissaries (apostles) to the Jews spread throughout the world. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife were two such young people.
I remember sitting in the 1980’s with Chabad Rabbi Finman in Melbourne Australia [who I was studying with] as he translated the Rebbe’s inspiring teachings from Yiddish into English for the whole Yeshivah. I was inspired that day as Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka were inspired by the Rebbe to give their lives to God’s service. The rebbe inspired in us a devotion to the Mashiach (Messiah). Now through the evil of others they have become Jewish martyrs and given their blood for God and the Jewish people.
I pray that their sacrifice will bring others to God and that from this tragedy will come good fruit. Let us pray for their souls and the souls of all the others lost in this terror onslaught and for their loved ones to be consoled. The Jewish custom is to say Psalms on behalf of the dead so maybe we could all say a Psalm for them too.
Athol is an Australian of Anglo-Jewish ancestry who became a Catholic at the age of 24 in 1987. He is involved in teaching the Jewish roots of the Catholic Faith and is a member of the Association of Hebrew Catholics