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'We will never allow the terrorists to overcome us'

Arthur J Pais in New York | November 29, 2008 04:17 IST

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Stressing how India has welcomed and hosted Jewish families for 20 centuries, Rabbi Uriel Vigler of the Chabad House in New York said the siege of the Chabad House in Mumbai and the death of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka should not deter Jewish people from across the world going to India.

"We will never allow the terrorists to overcome us whether it is in India, Israel, Thailand or America or any part of the world," he told rediff.com

He said the Jewish community, especially the ones who are working with the Chabad House communities in more than 65 countries including India, Kazakhstan, Australia [Images] and Norway, "are shocked, pained, and are very angry" at what happened to the rabbi and his wife. "We are also shocked and sad at what these terrorists have done against India," he said, his voice choking.

"The rabbi uprooted himself to go to India," Rabbi Vigler said. "He was born in Israel and was raised in America, but he and his wife went to India and were raising their baby in India because they loved India and they wanted to offer their services to the Jewish people who were visiting Mumbai or living in that city."

The terrorists invaded Chabad House which has an educational centre, synagogue and a social centre just as they stormed the Taj and Trident hotels and other targets in the city. A maid escaped the terrorists along with Moshe Holtzberg, Rabbi Holtzberg's two-year-old son.

Rabbi Holtzberg was 28 and his wife, who was also born in Israel, was 28. Their friends said that Rabbi Holtzberg, who wore the traditional orthodox dress including a large hat and dark clothes and had a flourishing beard, had been living in India for more than five years. The family loved India and did not want to come back to America, the friends said. The rabbi, who came to America at age nine, had American and Israeli passports, the friends said.

"We wonder from time to time how God allows such things to happen," Rabbi Vigler continued. The Jewish people, he said, have vowed over the centuries not to let terrorism and genocide be allowed to overcome them. "India can do it too," he said. "Like we are asserting today that we won't allow the terrorists to overcome us, India surely is also feeling the same way."

"Jews will continue to visit India and make more friends across the country," Rabbi Vigler said.

During the past decade India has become a magnet for Jewish travelers and sojourners. There are an estimated 50,000 young Jews living for months in Goa [Images] and the Himalayan regions in India. Many of them have left Israel because of the tension triggered by terrorist attacks and the political situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Jewish organisations say 25,000 to 30,000 Israelis visit India every year, many are drawn to the ashrams and a mystical life. Many come for business including diamonds and handicrafts.

The ultra orthodox Jews in the Lubavitch Hassidic movement, which has its headquarters in Brooklyn's Crown Heights that runs the Chabad centres, are also strong believers in mysticism. The Chabad centre in Mumbai not only played host to Jews in general but also sought to offer its own mystical tradition to younger Jews.

The Chabad House in India is one of the 3,500 outposts run by the orthodox sect. There were plans to add several more Chabad centres in India in the next few years.

All through Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of orthodox Jews prayed for 'a miracle' at the group's world headquarters in Brooklyn. Rabbi Holtzberg grew up in the neighbourhood. By Friday morning, the bad news had spread in the community, and now the prayers were for a different purpose.

Several people in Brooklyn who spoke about the tragedy said they believed the couple had been killed before Indian commandos stormed the building. They were killed in cold blood, said one member of the Brooklyn congregation. Family members of the slain couple began losing hope even as the maid came out of the besieged house with the baby who had blood over his pants.

Rabbi Vigler said he did not know Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife personally. But he had heard from many people that the couple were ever ready to help anyone in need of service, and their interest in charity extended beyond the Jewish community.

"I wish I had known them," said Rabbi Vigler, "Nevertheless, I feel like my brother and my sister have been killed." He also said that the work the rabbi and his wife were doing in Mumbai was known throughout the world Jewish communities. "Their house was open 24 hours for Jews who needed religious service, counseling --- or just some warm tea or freshly baked muffins even in the very early hours of the morning."

Their home was open to the whole world, fellow segregationists said, echoing the rabbi's comments. The Holtzberg couple had felt very, very secure in India, they added.





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