Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chabad's Tremendous Response to Terror

Stunned, lamenting, action. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy that struck Mumbai, India on November 26th and 27th, Chabad took action. In tremendous ways, the ultra-orthodox Hassidic Jews redirected their grief into positive action in order to combat the evil that quaked their world.

"This week, no one is celebrating," said Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper, Yated Neeman. "But they are more united than ever before. After the atrocities in India, all of us are more united."

Among the hostages who were killed by terrorists at Mumbai's Nariman House were two Chabad Shluchim [emissaries] of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife, Rivka.

In Chicago, a crowd of 1,300 showed unity and support at the Skokie Hotel on the evening of November 26th, for the Jewish Community's Memorial Evening of Tribute and Solidarity. Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Illinois, read a letter from President-Elect Barack Obama that offered condolences to the entire Jewish community, acknowledged the "mission of service to the Jewish community" which the Holtzbergs provided, and vowed that the "terrorists with no regard for human life" would be brought to justice. Moscowitz then appealed to the crowd to utilize this moment of inspiration to add light to the world by increasing personal acts of goodness and kindness, a response central to Chabad values. Mitzvah-pledge cards were filled out by participants, which Moscowitz will take to the grieving families in Israel. 250 letters of comfort written by students of the Jewish day schools in Chicago will also be delivered. Hundreds of Friday Light kits were distributed to the participants as part of the Shabbat candle-lighting campaign.

Shluchim of Long Island gathered Sunday, November 30th at Chabad of Mineola for a memorial and prayer service, as reported by, a leading Chabad news site. The community, consisting of several Chabad institutions, joined in prayer, song, and inspirational speeches. Rabbi Raify Konikov, representing the neighboring Chabad emissaries, was chosen to travel to Israel for the Holtzberg's funeral.

About 1,000 people thronged to Gayley Avenue on Sunday, November 30th, to attend a memorial at the West Coast headquarters of Chabad in Los Angeles, California. Those in attendance paid tribute to the Holtzbergs and the other victims, vowing to combat the evil with acts of goodness, even in the face of the terrorist attacks.

Thousands of Jews, from every corner of the world, regardless of their prior observance, have pledged to do acts of kindness and good deeds in the wake of the terror attack in India. While some have taken upon themselves to light Shabbat candles or don traditional phylacteries, others have resolved to increase contributions to charity, go to their local Chabad House, show more love for their fellow man, learn from the Bible, or offer prayers to G-d. According to Chabad teachings, such deeds serve as the light that dispels darkness. "We must honor the souls of those torn away from us, by immortalizing their lives through our positive deeds," said Rabbi Simon Jacobson, scholar of mysticism and author of the best selling book Toward a Meaningful Life.

Donations have been steadily pouring into funds set up for the rebuilding of the Mumbai Chabad Center and to support the two orphaned Holtzberg children. "I attended a memorial for the victims of Chabad Mumbai at my synagogue on Saturday," said Lucette Lagnado, author and reporter for the Wall Street Journal. "It was very crowded - filled with people I had never seen before. Worshippers went up to the pulpit and pledged thousands of dollars."

Arising from India's 9/11, as the media has termed the attacks, is peace and unity among Jews and even among the media; Jewish communities gathered together to pay tribute to the victims of terror in India, while media exchanged minute-to-minute updates.

In addition to the sorrow Jews are experiencing upon the loss of their own in India, the latest acts of terrorism have had a far-reaching, enabling effect on the entire Jewish community.

"This Shabbat you'll find me at a place I haven't been for years -- my local Chabad," proclaimed Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal, on Friday, November 28th. "I hope you do the same. I hope rabbis of all stripes march down with their congregants to do the same."

Mel Konner, author and professor at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, told CNN, "The extremists, the terrorists, the Islamist radicals… hate the prospect of peace among these nations and the possibility of progress and getting away from this violence… Unfortunately in these situations, it's always possible for a small number of people to have an exaggerated effect on everything."

"As we mourn [the Holtzberg] untimely and incomprehensible deaths," said Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, Chabad shliach to Scottsdale, AZ, "it is high time for each of us to continue their work with renewed vigor and conviction." Allouche encouraged Jews to continue to perpetuate Judaism, in their own lives as well as in the lives of every Jew encountered, which is in essence the very mission for which the Holtzbergs sacrificed themselves. "There could not be a sweeter revenge for the barbaric terrorists, may their names be erased, who murdered them so cold-bloodedly," he added.

Naftali Salomon, a friend of the Holtzbergs', related, "Gabi and Rivka's entire goal in life was nothing other than to help a fellow human being in need, bring a fellow Jew closer to Judaism, or to simply put a smile on the face of someone who was feeling down. And they did so with the utmost sacrifice, selflessness and humility; never taking credit for their accomplishments or patting themselves on the back."

"What else can one do but look for the glimmers of light and hope amid the darkness and bitterness?" Salomon said, going on to describe the lasting impact the Holtzbergs had had on those whom they encountered, whether it be through the Jewish ritual bath they established, the prayer services they conducted, the Jewish weddings they presided over, and their son Moshe who "miraculously survived thanks to the heroic nanny."

Perusing the headlines of articles posted on Chabad websites, one would surely notice the influx of news announcements of Chabad-initiated memorials in cities across America as well as internationally, in which entire Jewish communities have joined in mourning. Unity, support, solidarity; Jews have shown their fundamental ties, many disregarding their differences in denomination, by joining together in memorial and action to honor the Holtzbergs and others killed in Mumbai.

"You know, this is the Chabad spirit: turn tears into action and into energy," said Rabbi Shalom Paltiel, a close friend of the Holtzbergs, during his interview on NBC's Today Show.

"In order to succeed in this battle," wrote Uri Orbach in his article titled "Light versus Darkness" published in Ynet News, "we must realize that this is yet another struggle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. And light shall win."

Today, after the global media coverage of the horrific Anti-Semitic events in Mumbai, the world has more exposure to Judaism and Jews: a people steadfast in their beliefs and selfless acts to bring the world to a better place - one not of darkness, but of light.

It begs the ironic question: was this the terrorists' intent?

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