Sunday, 30 November 2008


It has been a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend here, but punctuated by the immense sorrow, the heart-wrenching sorrow of the news from Bombay. I am so angry at these attacks against innocent civilians, outraged by the hatred, by the lack of respect for life. I am sad at the loss of all those who died, but I wanted to share my acute pain at the loss of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg, Chabad emissaries.

To give this some context, I am very very close to Chabad-Lubavitch, an orthodox branch of Judaism. I am not very observant but I do believe, and this - and my strong identity as a Jew - is all thanks to Chabad. Many have and will sum up Chabad-Lubavitch better than I: this is a most extraordinary organisation. It was led by the extraordinary Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who believed that just as Jews had been sought out with hatred in World War II, so he wanted his followers to reach out to every Jew, wherever in the world he may be, with love.

As such, his followers, young newly-married men and women, go all over the world - wherever there might be a Jew, and run outreach centres. These are ultra-orthodox people for whom it would be so much easier to be in Brooklyn, with all the necessary amenities: Jewish schools, Kosher shops, mikvaot... the list goes on. It is immensely difficult to strictly follow Kosher laws when in a land devoit of Kosher symbols and supervision, not to mention being far away from friends and family, and often sending your children to study abroad because where you are serving there is no Jewish school. Yet these couples do it and can be found all over the world, from Bombay to Bangkok serving others with joy and love. They are a walking example of what it means to be selfless, to love your fellow man. Incredible.

Let them not be confused with missionaries: the Jewish faith is deeply against proselytizing, against attempted conversion - even against trying to make people 'more religious'. That's not the point. The point is to help people to identify as Jews, to know about their heritage.

My contact with Chabad was primarily at Oxford University. I was dating a non-Jewish boy, I had little connection to my background, and through Chabad I learnt what it means to be Jewish. I was President of the society with my good friend Daniel. I heard amazing speakers, I debated, I learnt, I cooked and I ate some incredible Shabbat dinners. I learnt what it is to give, I had the best examples I could imagine. Several years later I studied Judaism in NY State with Chabad. I emerged a person who is knowlegdeable about her faith. I am sometimes critical and do not swallow everything, but then debate and learning is a pivotal part of Jewish culture. I love this organisation, and I owe it so so much.

That two of these extraordinary people were so brutally killed is a very personal loss to me. I take it as a call on me to be better, to live better. I don't understand it, and I don't know what to say.

My sincere condolences to anyone who lost a loved one or a friend. In fact, to all of us, because this attack is an attack on us all, on who we are and on what we believe in.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families touched by these acts of terror in Mumbai. We still do not know the full measure of this tragedy, which has taken the lives of Indian citizens, Americans, and others who had traveled to Mumbai from around the world. Two New Yorkers, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg of Brooklyn are among those who have died, leaving behind their young son. The young couple had traveled from Brooklyn to manage a small Chabad house, welcoming Jews from India and elsewhere to learn, pray, and serve the community.

“There could be no sharper a reminder, nor a more poignant call to action, than the brutal and heinous violence visited upon the Nariman House and the Holtzberg family, living and working in Mumbai on a mission of peace, scholarship, and spiritual guidance.

“As those responsible are brought to justice, as we aid and support the victims and their families, as we work to defeat radical extremism and the terror it spawns, let us find strength in knowing that in the face of those who seek to take lives, there are those who seek to give hope and comfort. In the face of those who wish only to destroy, there are individuals like Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg who travel great distances far from their homes to build a better world.”


Anonymous said...

I was effected pretty deeply by what happened in Mumbai as well. At work we were swamped with phone calls and emails and had a local press conference and everything... absolutely crazy.

But I'm so glad to hear you say what you say about Chabad. Honestly, I didn't know anything about Chabad when I came to work for them six months ago, and it makes me feel really good to know that someone has been effected so deeply by their work.

I'm sure Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife also touched many people, in Mumbai, in India, and around the world. It seems that everyone affiliated with Chabad does.

Thank you!