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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slain rabbi's kin want to rebuild Jewish centre

MUMBAI: A nauseating smell emanates from the rubble and strewn furniture as Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg and his wife Frieda rummage through the belongings of their dead son Gavriel who ran Chabad House in south Mumbai. The house was the city headquarters of the ultra orthodox Hasidic Jews.

The couple and their sons Moshe and Avraham have come to Mumbai from Brooklyn on a two-week sojourn. On Friday morning, the rabbi and his wife visited the deserted Chabad House building, which is more popularly known as Nariman House. During his stay here, the rabbi plans to connect with the local Jewish community, and perform religious ceremonies and duties related to the traditional Friday night meals that his son once performed.

A lone, unarmed security guard lets us in. The tragedy that occurred here a little over two months ago slowly seeps in. On November 26 last year, two Pakistani terrorists targeted the building and killed 29-year-old Gavriel and his wife Rivka, who was five months pregnant.

Accompanied by their hefty Israeli escort, security expert Avi Cohen, the couple inspect the damage to the structure and stare at stains on the walls that appear to be blood. Rabbi Holtzberg picks up stacks of Hebrew books from the floor. His wife Frieda points to a corner and says, "This is where he died." referring to Gavriel.

Earlier, talking to TOI at a south Mumbai hotel, Rabbi Holtzberg said his family's mission now was to seek donations from Indians to rebuild Chabad House. "In our estimate, we'll require at least $ 2 million (approx Rs 10 crore) to get it up and running with enhanced security," he said. "This was a home not only for Jews, but every person, from every other community. Now we need support from the Indian community to come forward and help it start again," he added. The Holtzbergs have already collected some funds from the US and Europe.

Frieda Holtzberg is worried about her two-year-old grandson Moshe, who became a symbol of hope and survival during the terrorist carnage. The boy was miraculously rescued by his nanny Sandra Samuel. They have since moved to Israel. "He is not only a son of Israel, but now of the entire world," his grandparents said. But mundane worries persist, and the couple plan to start a fund to secure his future. "He's happy in Israel, but sometimes still calls out for his parents," says his grandmother.

The rabbi's two sons are however upset that there has been no word of apology from the Indian authorities. "So far we haven't heard from anyone. There is no apology, no support, no statement, no phone calls from the Indian government," said Moshe, adding that both the past and present US presidents had expressed concern.

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