Rivka Holtzberg (28) and Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg (29). May their memory be for a blessing.

Rivka Holtzberg (28) and Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg (29). May their memory be for a blessing.

As soon as Shabbat was over in Jerusalem, I rushed to my computer to see what the updates were from Mumbai. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my prayers over Shabbat had not been answered and that Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were already dead. I didn’t know them personally but I’ve known others like them – in Montreal and Park Slope, in Toronto, Thailand, New Orleans, Los Angeles – pretty much anywhere I have ever traveled, there was a Chabad Shaliach, doors open, friendly and hospitable, never asking or anything in return and representing the very best of what Judaism is all about. Sure, we’ve all poked fun at these guys. I mean they are Hassidic Jews after all, with their funny hats and beards, and their odd ideas about the Messiah. We’d take advantage of their hospitality and kindness while always asserting “I am not a Chabadnik.”

But all that’s changed now. Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were targeted solely because they were Jewish. Had any of us been in Mumbai the day of the attack, we too would have been similarly targeted by mere dint of our religious affiliation. It wouldn’t have mattered in the least to the cowardly terrorists if we were atheist Jews, or cultural Jews, or left wing peacenick Jews, or secular, LWMO, Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist. If they called out for Jews and you had the balls to raise your hand, they wouldn’t have asked if your Mom was Jewish or if the Rabbi that performed your conversion was on the approved list of Rabbis put out by the Rabbinate in Israel. They would have targeted you without further question. Now I am not saying that we ought to allow our enemies to define who is a Jew, but what I am saying is that however we define ourselves, at least for the next little while, we are all Chabadniks.

Those of you wishing to contribute to a fund that will help rebuild the Chabad of Mumbai and benefit the surviving children of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, may do so by clicking here. It’s not much, but it’s the least we can do. You can read more about Gabi and Rivky at Chabad.org.

Hat tip to Talya for the link and the inspiration to not be angry.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Solidarity is the only fitting response.

    And yes, a little anger. May G-d (give us the strength to) avenge their blood.

    As a more cynical/pessimistic Tribe member, I latched on to the earlier reports by the babysitter that the other hostages were “unconscious” when she fled.

    Now they have released her full statement – it looks like they slaughtered the Jews as soon as they took over the building. And Rabbi Gavriel’s last action was to cover the other Jews in talitot.

  • Perhaps the greater, more fruitful challenge is to see ourselves as Indians and as Hindus.

  • Tom, I have no problem feeling empathy for the Indian victims – I mean other than the grief and the sorrow that I feel for the innocent lives that were taken for no good reason at all. But feeling further empathy for the deaths of our fellow Jews at the Chabad House in Mumbai is not an either/or proposition. One does not cancel out the other even though the Chabad tragedy hit particularly close to home. I was duly horrified before I knew any Jews were victimized. But please, allow me this little caprice, allow me to mourn my people without calling into question my sense of universal humanity. Just for now ok? Thanks…

  • Chazak u barach CK

    Your well put words are a brachah for Shlaymut
    in our diverse community.

    I would like to call myself a Chabadnik,
    however, when I see myself in the mirror, I ask

    “When will my acts measure up to those most
    brave amongst us who have done such awesomeness?”

    People who have heriocally done great things and not just talked….

    because all I see in the mirror is someone who can barely put on
    teffilin and doven let alone make it to a minyan…

    Not even talking about making a minyan or going to some
    far off place to do so…

    Not every Chabadnik can measure up to this standard.

    So you touched on upon something here that perhaps
    I didn’t realize.

    The only possible explanation for why heroes such as
    Rabbi Gavi and Rabbineet Rivky do and have done
    what they do is this:

    As much as we all have appreciated the Chabad House
    scene, the Rabbi and Rebaneet have got more Nachat
    from the company under their care.

    Unless there is something I am missing….

  • I agree that as Jews — and no doubt as Americans — we would have been targeted by the terrorists. I am shocked and am mourning the lives taken and horrified at the news that the Holtzbergs and perhaps other Jews were singled out for torture.

    But I won’t slip into sentimentality. We are all Jews, yes. I am not a Chabadnik.

  • ck, I have no problem at all with your approach. In general, though, it’s perhaps too easy for us to focus on victims with whom (we think) we have more in common, e.g. the father and daughter from VA who were killed. It’s sadly common that cultural gulfs intrude to keep us from empathizing more fully with those who are different. How often do our eyes glaze over when we read about atrocities in eastern Congo, for example, or Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq? Mine do, certainly.

  • Yes Tom. You are right. If we were capable of perfect empathy, we would feel as much anguish for all the other victims of all the world’s tragedies. My ability to extend my empathy that far is weakness of mine – compounded by the fact that my people’s history of tragedy already taxes my limited reserves of empathy. I’ll try harder though.

  • Thanks for writing this, CK. I think you have eloquently expressed what a lot of Jews (with the exception of our friend DK) are feeling at this time.

    I also want to thank Tom. My wife is Hindu so it is not much of a leap for me to empathize with both groups.

    We should also consider the Indian Muslims who were murdered by their co-religionists. After all, not every Indian who was murdered was Hindu.

    In times like these it makes me realize India and Israel share more than a bit in common. The experience of struggling against British colonialism, dealing with partition (India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine), fighting numerous wars with their belligerent neighbors (in India’s case, Pakistan and China), and of course dealing with Islamist terrorism and other forms of political extremism while maintaining a pluralist, democratic state.

    My father-in-law told my wife he hopes this brings Israel and India closer together in their shared struggle against Islamist totalitarianism. I do as well.