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The Mumbai Massacre

Shulamit Glazerman describes the threat of Islamic extremism to democracy, capitalism, and religious tolerance (12/5/2008).

May their memory be for a blessing
Shulamit Glazerman, Special to The Enterprise
Published: December 5, 2008

Last week's terror attack on Mumbai by Islamic extremists captures the new world dynamic. The perpetrators represent a widespread movement to convert or kill all so-called "infidels," and make Islam the dominant political force the world over through violence. Most of the victims were common citizens of India's bustling economic center, Mumbai. There was, however, a particular effort by the terrorists to target British and U.S. citizens as well as Jews.

At their core, the attacks were an assault on democracy, capitalism and religious tolerance. For those people who do not take this threat seriously, or who conjure up excuses for acts of barbarity, it is time to take stock. For those who appreciate the severity and danger of the evil we face, it is time to take action.

The takeover of Chabad House was particularly horrifying. In this case, the victims were singled out on account of their religion, and hunted down along with four guests in their own home. The targets, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg (who was six months pregnant), established and ran the Chabad House.  Only two survivors emerged before the deadly siege ended. The Holtzbergs son Moshe was rescued by his nanny, who said she found him on the floor beside his slain parents, his clothes soaked with their blood. He celebrated his 2nd birthday this past weekend, an orphan processing the loss of his parents, with relatives in Israel.

The Holtzbergs were not ordinary people. Like their counterparts at 3,300 sites spanning 75 countries throughout the world, they were shluchim, or emissaries of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Jewish movement whose primary goal is to ensure that every Jew, wherever he or she may be, has access to and is enabled to take a more active role in his/her Jewish heritage. The context is traditional, Torah-observant Judaism, and the approach is intellectual, spiritual and mystical. Shluchim operate through the establishment of Chabad "houses," some remote from centers of Jewish life, to serve local and traveling Jewish populations. Typically, their family homes become the community center, the synagogue, the adult learning institute, the Hebrew school for children, a source for kosher food and meals. Only the most knowledgeable, hard-working, self-sacrificing and generous of heart are cut out for this life.

Shortly after marrying in 2003, the Holtzbergs established Chabad of Mumbai in a single room of a three-star hotel. They provided classes and kosher food, despite lacking a kitchen. Over the years, Rabbi Holtzberg raised funds and arranged financing for the Nariman House, a four-story building that became their new Chabad House.They served a local Jewish population (known as the Bene Israel, whose roots in India date back more than 2,000 years) as well as a diverse stream of visitors, from those conducting business to young adults on backpacking adventures. They were respected and loved by the whole community, to which they were entirely devoted.

Until last week, Jews lived in Mumbai peacefully with Muslim neighbors.  Last week's siege of Mumbai underscores the unbearable misery that will be suffered if the terror of Islamic extremism is not overcome. Rebbetzin Sorele Brownstein of Chabad of Davis commented: "This could happen anywhere." 

We will ultimately lose this war if we do not fight it. The most effective response to this threat is to empower those who are targeted by it: those governments, institutions, organizations, individuals and programs that advance democracy, capitalism and religious tolerance.

In Hebrew, it is customary to add the words zichrono/a livrachah after the name of the deceased, to indicate that the deceased person's memory should be for a blessing. In Davis, we can take one step in channeling our anger and grief at the horror of what happened in Mumbai by expressing support and condolences to the Chabad victims' local counterparts, Rabbi Shmaryahu and Rebbetzin Sorele Brownstein at Chabad of Davis. Contributions also may be made to the Chabad of Mumbai Relief Fund, to continue Chabad efforts in Mumbai and to care for the orphaned Holtzberg children (visit http://www. for more information).

May the memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg be for a blessing. Tax-deductible contributions to Chabad of Davis and the Chabad of Mumbai Relief Fund can be sent to: Rabbi Shmaryahu Brownstein, Chabad of Davis, 641 W. Eighth St., Davis, CA 95616.— Shulamit Glazerman is a Davis resident.

Copyright, 2008, The Davis Enterprise.

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