Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Chicago Jews mourn Mumbai victims

For many Jewish travelers, it is a beacon of hospitality in a foreign land. But on the evening of Nov. 26 in Mumbai, the Chabad House became the scene of horrific crimes that reminded many Jews of a darker time decades ago when they were targeted and tortured just for being Jewish.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Jewish community will pay tribute to six lives lost inside the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Mumbai and remind each other of his or her responsibility to bring light into darkness and repair the world.

“In the Jewish tradition, we know the world is not perfect,” said Steve Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “It’s no question they were targeted here. It’s selection to a certain extent. The word selection [of the terrorists] goes back to the ‘40s and the Nazi death camps. There’s a haunting connection.”

More than 170 lives were lost in the gunfire and explosions that rocked Mumbai last week. Media reports indicate that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivkah, and their guests Rav Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, Rabbi Bentzion Chroman, Yocheved Orpaz and Norma Schwartzblat-Rabinovitch were tortured and killed by the militant Islamists who seized the Chabad House and two luxury hotels.

Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest Hasidic movements in Orthodox Judaism, and is based in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. The Hebrew letters that spell Chabad are a Hebrew acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da’at meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge, respectively.

With the goal of encouraging Jews to learn more about their heritage and to practice Judaism, emissaries are dispatched around the world to reach out to their own, giving Jews a place to find kosher food, pray and reconnect with their faith. Though ultra-orthodox in their own practice, Chabad Houses welcome Jews of all branches--Reform, Reconstruction, Conservative, and modern Orthodox.

There are 31 Chabad Houses in Illinois. For financial reasons, plans to build a 32nd in downtown Chicago were placed on hold earlier this year.

Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, said the plan for a memorial service came from people who had encountered the Holtzbergs in Mumbai who he said “took care of every person like their own brother and sister.”

He hopes the memorial service demonstrates the importance of finding unity and common ground despite ideological and theological differences. He also hopes it awakens people to the reality that the attacks in Mumbai could happen in Britain, Beirut or our back yard.

“This was an event that shook the Jewish people and Chabad to its core,” he said. “This is 9/11 happening all over again.”

The memorial service is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn North Shore, 5300 W. Touhy Ave., Skokie.

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