December 11, 2008 - Bryan Schwartzman, Staff Writer
The worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement must respond to last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, by doubling its efforts at Jewish outreach and react to acts of cruelty by spreading acts of kindness, stated Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, who chairs the executive committee of the Agudas Chassidei Chabad, Chabad's umbrella organization.
Shemtov, who also oversees Lubavitch activities in the region, delivered an emotional address to roughly 400 people who turned out for a Dec. 8 memorial ceremony at Congregation B'nai Abraham in downtown Philadelphia. The program was held in memory of the nearly 200 killed in the series of attacks, including the six Jews killed inside the Chabad house in India's commercial hub.
Those victims included Norma Shvartzblat Rabinovich, a Mexican citizen planning to make aliyah; and Israelis Yocheved Orpaz, Rabbi Benzion Kruman and Rabbi Areyh Leibish Teitlebaum; and Chabad emissaries Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg.
The Holtzbergs had moved from Brooklyn to India in 2003, starting out in a rented apartment. They eventually bought the building that became the Chabad house. Their 2-year-old son, Moshe, was rescued from the building and will be raised by relatives in Israel, according to Chabad's Web site.
"These murderers sought to disconnect humanity from decency," said Shemtov, 71, who traveled to Israel last week to attend the Holtzergs' funeral in Kfar Chabad, a village founded by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn in 1949. "It is our test now to strengthen connections between people."
He said that the Holtzberg families had requested that Jews of all persuasions promise to perform additional mitzvot. Organizers distributed mitzvah pledge cards in honor of "Gabi & Rivky," in which people could promise to do things like light Shabbat candles, study Torah or give charity daily.
In addition, Shemtov said that Chabad is asking all Jews to try to respond to the pain and loss caused by the events by making connections with 10 new people during the traditional 30-day mourning period.
"I can't think of a better answer to the calls of the souls of Gavriel and Rikvah," declared Shemtov, who later said that the community could not remain paralyzed with grief and would have to move on.
Several speakers cited a precedent for responding to terror. In 1957, eight years after Kfar Chabad was founded in central Israel, a band of Palestinian fedayeen infiltrated the village and killed five children and a teacher.
The most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe -- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994 -- sent a telegram at the time of fedayeen attack, urging Kfar Chabad residents to seek comfort from overwhelming grief by continuing to build up the village and teach the young.
Fighting Back Tears
During the Philadelphia memorial, men and women sat on opposite sides of the recently refurbished, historic synagogue. While more than a week had passed since the attacks in India and a number of smaller programs had been held in the interim, raw emotions still colored this event. Some audience members seemed visibly shaken; a few looked to be fighting back tears, while others buried their faces in their hands.
Rabbi Zalman Lipsker, who works with the city's Hebrew-speaking population, led the room in a recitation of Psalm 107.
Israeli Consul General Daniel Kutner read the eulogy that Israeli President Shimon Peres had delivered at the Holtzbergs' funeral. Leonard Barrack, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, offered brief remarks.
"The loss of cherished souls are being grieved throughout our city," he said.
Organizers also played a 15-minute video about the Holtzbergs -- including clips from interviews conducted in India -- that portrayed the couple as eager, idealistic and doing work that they considered a calling.
Rachel Wise, a Northeast Philadelphia woman who lingered for a few moments after the program, said that she felt inspired to translate her pain into some tangible action.
"This was like a wake-up call to remind us of what we should be doing," said Wise. "When light is extinguished, you have the opportunity to bring light back into the world."