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'Time heals, but for us the pain has only intensified'

By Harinder Mishra
November 26, 2018 14:44 IST
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Grandparents of Moshe Holtzberg, who survived the 26/11 carnage at the age of two, talk of how questions by the now 12-year-old boy only add to their grief.

IMAGE: Moshe, now 12, earlier in this year had returned to Nariman House in Mumbai where his parents were gunned down by terrorists on that fateful night of November 26, 2008. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

“Time heals”, they say.

But for Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg -- the grandfather of Moshe Holtzberg who survived the 26/11 carnage at the age of two, having lost his parents to the terror attack on the Nariman House -- time hasn’t healed their trauma despite a decade going past.

In 2008, on this day, Moshe became an orphan. His father Rabbi Gavriel and mother Rivka, who was five months pregnant at the time, were killed by Pakistani terrorists along with four other hostages at the Nariman House, Mumbai’s Chabad Lubavitch Jewish centre.

Moshe was in the same building that time. His Indian nanny Sandra Samuel found him sitting next to his parents’ bullet-riddled bodies, crying and alive. She risked her life and fled the building with the baby.


The boy, who is now 12 years old, lives in Israel with his maternal grandparents. Sandra, 54, has been felicitated by the Israeli government as a honourary citizen. She lives in Jerusalem but visits Moshe every weekend.

“Time heals, they say, but for us the pain has only intensified over the last 10 years as we see the boy growing,” Rosenberg said on the 10th anniversary of the nightmarish attacks that shook the world.

“As Moshe grows and his inquisitive mind raises questions it is increasingly difficult for us to handle,” he said, adding that it hurts them immensely when he asks about his parents and why he is growing up with his ageing grandparents.

“We are growing old and his questions are quite natural,” Rosenberg said.

IMAGE: Moshe, pictured here shortly after the attacks, was only 2 when his parents died. He then moved to Israel and now lives with his grandparents -- Yehudit Rosenberg and Shimon Rosenberg. Photograph: Arko Datta/Reuters

The grandfather, however, is very appreciative of the support his family has received from the Indian government and people, which makes him believe that it is a “shared” pain.  

“I appreciate the government and people of India for the way they have stood by us and made us feel that it is a shared pain. We thank them for the relationship they have built with us and the warmth they have extended to us,” he said recalling the family’s trip with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Mumbai early this year.

“People can say and complain about all sorts of things like security lapse, etc, but we believe in God. The feeling of oneness demonstrated by Indians is heart-warming and we appreciate it a lot,” Rosenberg asserted.

Moshe’s nanny Sandra said Moshe has grown into an intelligent boy.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Feel as if it was just now. The thought of it trembles me and is terrifying but the sight of Moshe gives a lot of strength. He is now such an intelligent big boy who will have his bar mitzvah next year,” Sandra said.     

Bar mitzvah is a ceremony performed for Jewish boys at the age of 13. Some Israeli scholars compare the ceremony to the Hindu upnayana or the sacred thread ceremony. 

Sandra’s pictures of holding the little boy close to her chest after escaping from the place touched the hearts of millions of people all over the world.  

“I will always regret not being able to do anything for Rivka and Rabbi Holtzberg. Also that they can not see their child growing up. He is such a bright child. They would have been proud of him,” a choking Sandra said.

IMAGE: Talking of his visit to Nariman House in January this year along with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the pain was just to traumatic and he was deeply impacted by the site. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

The family celebrated Moshe’s 12th birthday about three weeks ago at his school and at home with close family as per the Hebrew calendar. As per the Gregorian calendar, he will turn 12 on November 28.

The boy’s grandparents had planned to celebrate his bar mitzvah next year at the Chabad House where he was born and lost his parents, but seem to have changed their mind following their trip in January to India with Netanyahu.

“The pain is just too traumatic for him to go through once again. He was deeply impacted by the site during his visit and his psychologist also feels that it would not be a good idea to push him to celebrate his bar mitzvah there,” Rosenberg said. 

In an emotional meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 5, 2017 in Jerusalem, the young boy expressed his wish to be able to visit Mumbai.

“I hope I will be able to visit Mumbai, and when I get older, live there. I will be the director of our Chabad House...I love you and your people in India,” Moshe told the prime minister who embraced the young boy on seeing him.

Modi responded by saying, “Come and stay in India and Mumbai. You are most welcome. You and your all family members will get long-term visas. So you can come anytime and go anywhere.”

Netanyahu had then promptly asked Moshe to join him when he travels to India, a promise he did not forget and the family accompanied him during his trip to India earlier this year.

India issued 10-year multiple entry visas to Moshe and his grandparents to ease their travel to the country in August 2017. Modi is said to have personally followed up on the matter as promised to Moshe during their meeting.

In 26/11, ten Lashkar-e-Tayibe members carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on November 26 and lasted till November 29. At least 174 people, including nine attackers, died and over 300 were wounded.

Eight of the attacks occurred at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the TajPalace and Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, the Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and in a lane behind the Times of India building and St Xavier’s College. Explosions took place at the Mazagaon docks and in a taxi at Vile Parle. 

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Harinder Mishra
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