There simply are no words for our pain.
For several days this past week, we lived in limbo, praying and waiting to hear the good news that never came, that our beloved Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg a"h (may they rest in peace) were free and alive. These two precious souls were snuffed out while still so young, for no other reason than because they were Jews.
This young couple, lovely beyond words, already had so much suffering in their young lives, but always had smiles on their faces, and were always there to help others. Their first son died of Tay-Sachs, and their second son is permanently hospitalized in Israel with the same genetic disease. Then this horrific end to their precious lives!
The bodies of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who was 6 months pregnant, and five other Israelis killed last week when Islamist terrorists attacked the Chabad House were flown from Mumbai to Israel. There was a small ceremony upon the arrival of the plane with the bodies of the slain in Israel, late Monday.
Rabbi Rosenberg, whose daughter Rivka and son-in-law Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg both were murdered in the attack, called on the mourners to continue the work his children had begun as the Lubavitch movement's emissaries to Mumbai and vowed that Chabad would continue to operate in the city despite the bloody acts. He said that he and his wife, Yehudit, Rivky’s parents, are considering becoming Chabad's new emissaries to Mumbai.
Among the participants at the ceremony were Israel's ambassador to India and members of the Israeli ZAKA rescue team, but all eyes in the room were on the Holtzberg's young son, Moshe, who brought the room to tears when during the ceremony he cried out: “Mommy, mommy!”
While little Moshe, who turned two just this past Shabbos will live with his grandparents, Sandra Samuel, an Indian woman who is his nanny, will live with them as well, so he has a familiar face nearby. During the siege of the Chabad House, Samuel had locked herself in a laundry room when she heard Rivky screaming, “Sandra help!” Then the screaming stopped, and all was quiet. She cracked open the door of her hiding place and saw a deserted staircase. She ran up one flight and saw the Gabi and Rivky, covered in blood and shot to death. She snatched the crying Moshe, bolted down the stairs and out of the building to safety. If she hadn't grabbed him, he would surely have been murdered. It is feared that he was beaten by the attackers.
Mark Sofer, the Israeli ambassador to India, also paid tribute to the victims. “This is a tragedy for India and a tragedy for Israel, but above all for the families. We, our Indian friends and the rest of the civilized world will continue to fight terrorism, until we win.”
When ZAKA rescue members opened the Holy Ark in the Mumbai Chabad Center, that was damaged by bullet shots they found the Torah scroll inside riddled with bullets as well.
But what shocked and stunned them the most was that when they opened the Torah scroll they saw that the bullets had hit and damaged precisely the chapter in Leviticus 16:1: “G-d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons…”
This refers to Aaron's righteous sons Nadav and Abihu who, as we are told earlier in Leviticus 10:1-3, were consumed by a fire that came forth from G-d and Moses tells Aaron this is what G-d meant when he said “I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me.”
Throughout the ages Jewish sages have used this chapter to explain why righteous people die in unnatural deaths!
This Torah Scroll was sent to Israel together with the Holtzbergs, who sanctified the Name of G-d and were and are close to Him.
The anguish is great and hard to put aside. Someone from our family was taken away in a terrible way. Yet, there is something we can all do. Doing something for them will be a comfort – something that will add light to their holy souls up in Gan Eden (Heaven.)
What to do? Carry on.
Because if we become afraid, they won. If we are crushed, they won. If we remain depressed, they won. If we let this destroy our lives, they won.
If we do the opposite, we win. And they lose.
So let’s win. Let’s continue. Let’s march forward. Let’s continue doing everything we always did.
But let’s do more than that. Let’s give more tzedakah (charity.) Let’s learn more Torah. Let’s be more tolerant, less dismissive, of each other.
Let’s fight darkness with light.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, whose teachings Gabi and Rivkah followed, taught of the need to turn tears into action. I ask of each and every one of you, to emulate the shining example of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. To dedicate our lives a little bit more to goodness and kindness, to true and boundless love of our fellows.
Chabad-Lubavitch has started a global campaign for people to undertake good deeds to be done in memory of those murdered. You can go to our website: chabadcrimea.org – Current, to join with the thousands of others who have pledged to do something in memory of the victims. There, you can choose from a list of suggestions or choose your own personal acts of goodness to be your personal answer the senseless evil which was perpetrated.
CLICK HERE TO ADD YOUR GOOD DEED TO THOUSANDS [chabadcrimea.org]
No Last Respects for Martyred Couple
by Rabbi Shimon Posner
Within less than a week they went from virtually unknown to Rabbi and Mrs. Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, directors of Chabad of Mumbai to ‘the Holtzbergs’ to Gabi and Rivkie. His smile was infectious and as someone who never knew him I recognized that smile immediately: it was on the faces of dozens of young men just like him who have walked through my doors in the last twelve years.
Showing up to spend Shabbat with us, often on break from yeshiva, they showed up with that smile and an open handshake and within minutes “what needs to be done?'' And I put them to work. Because they made you feel that by their helping they owed you a favor, not you them. And by the time we sat down to the Shabbat meal they would have our two- year-old (whichever child it was at the time) on their knees and the other kids clamoring for them and basking in their attention. And they always left after Shabbat with a place in our hearts.
And slowly, between bombardments of horror issuing from India, details of their lives came out: Rivkie liked jasmine tea with with fresh mint leaves. Rivkie was debating what color to paint her Chabad House, and had asked her friend – the Chabad rebbetzin of Nepal – for advice.
Like his biblical antecedent, baby Moshe'le was plucked from the river by a woman. In the biblical case the Nile turned to blood eight decades later, the Holtzberg's Moshe came out of Nariman House with his pants dripping with blood hours before his second birthday. Sandra Samuel is now a household word – at least in my house.
Their funeral was packed with dignitaries and those who flew from afar – the media clips added the words ‘to pay their last respects’. The media were wrong.
There is no ‘last’ from Gabi and Rivkie, their bodies may well be on the mountain where their ancestors and mine lie buried, but Gabi and Rivkie won't be ensconced in a memorial. The death of a tyrant ends his reign; the death of martyr begins his. For just as surely as the bloodbath off Colaba Causeway ended their lives it did not herald their end. Gabi and Rivkie have now entered the hallowed halls of people who lived lives greater than themselves, connected to something enduring – and with that they have become eternal.
It is customary – mandatory – for us to comfort the mourners, the family. What can we say other than that there is nothing to say? I trust you know well, that we the people mourn with you. We don't for a minute assume our pain is the same as yours, but we see your pain, we wish we could alleviate it somehow and more than that, we see ourselves in Gabi and Rivkie.
We know they were not singled out because they were Holtzbergs and Rosenbergs; we know they were singled out because they were Jews. We know they weren't singled out because of their ideology; they were singled out for their decency. And because they were in a place we don't associate with terror we see our own fantasy-induced immunity threatened by their deaths. We have been indecently stripped of our it-can't-happen-to-us invulnerability without the slightest vestige of honor and decency. So we share – in our own way – your pain.
Do I now have to turn to Moshe'le? Men cringe and women weep when you cry for mommy. And watching you, thinking of you, we too cannot sense the comforting presence of our Father in Heaven here on earth. Like you, we are full of questions and cannot articulate them; don't even realize what they are.
Sandra; you deserved Rivkie and Gabi and they deserved you. In a moment of terror-induced panic your basic human decency and love kicked in and you rescued a crying boy.
What a refutation you are of those who sought to harm you! Where they show cowardice, you showed courage. They are afraid to attack soldiers, so they attack mommies and babies. They hide behind children when they shoot soldiers. You save babies and run towards the soldiers. You are the freedom fighter; they are the frustrated mamma-boy wusses who clearly cannot be called neither soldiers, nor fighters nor even men.
I wish politicians would pay more attention to you instead of paying homage to you. Without knowing you, I feel your courage is contagious and that would help them deal with a problem they should have and could have dealt with long ago.
Forgive me. I didn't mean to bring that up just yet; but now that it is here I will not take it away.
Gabi and Rivkie, strangers are already naming their children after you for you are strangers to us no longer. Your smile is infectious and we are catching your disease and feel healthier for it. As Velvel Green once described the likes of you ”I don't think you're crazy for moving to the places you do and living the lives you do. I think you are crazy because you enjoy it!"
Revenge is what I want, and I like my revenge sweet. And the sweetest revenge is good living. Rivkie and Gabi you didn't live well; you lived good. And now I see with inevitability if not clairvoyance that a generation will be raised in your glow and be starting homes like yours, houses that echo our father Abraham and Sarah.
Maybe I'm crazy, maybe I'm a prophet, maybe I'm both, maybe I'm just ranting, but you heard it here first; one day the children of those who sought harm will benefit from the legacy that Gabi and Rivkie left behind. That will be the sweetest revenge of all.
So we bury you, we salute you, we mourn you and we emulate you. We respect you and (pray the Al-mighty give us strength and focus and health to do so) we will live with you. But you little kids gunned down before you could grow grey, sorry guys, you will continue to live more than most ever will. So the one thing we cannot and will not give you is last respects. Instead, the respect for you will be lasting.
In Memorium. Gabi & Rivky Holtzberg H"YD
There simply are no words for our pain.