Thursday marked the shloshim, or the 30-day mourning period following the murders of Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg. Within the world of Chabad-Lubavitch, the day will be thoughtfully marked with prayers, tzedaka and mitzvahs.
The tragedy in Mumbai made international headlines and was followed by millions. But for the immediate families of the victims, it is a devastatingly personal, private calamity. While the rest of us move on as move on we must, Gabi’s and Rivka’s parents and siblings, and those of the other victims, will need to negotiate their grief and loss in the privacy of their own hearts. G-d alone can heal their great sorrow, but they will be with us in our daily thoughts, our prayers, and our actions.
The terrorist siege of the Chabad House and the brutal murders of our Shluchim in Mumbai have made Chabad-Lubavitch the object of an extraordinary outpouring of support and friendship. Letters, emails, contributions, and all forms of condolences continue to pour into our offices. They come from Jewish institutions of every kind, and they come from a great swath of humanity, Jews and non-Jews of every persuasion. Invariably they ask: “What can we do to help?”
Many of the condolences include belated and bittersweet thank-yous for the hospitality perfect strangers found with our Chabad representatives (shluchim) throughout the world. People who never met Gabi and Rivka Holzberg sent their sympathies and offers of help because of their own encounters with other Chabad shluchim. Through personal experiences, they have come to know, to depend upon, and to appreciate the ubiquity of this movement and the trademark goodness freely offered by shluchim like the Holtzbergs.
Well-wishers acknowledge the difference, often memorable, sometimes life-affirming, made in their lives by a Chabad representative who greeted them—at home or in their travels, in Cusco, Peru or Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Indian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina—with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for family.
That Gabi and Rivka were murdered in their own home, a sanctuary for Jewish travelers and seekers in need of a warm welcome and nurture for body and soul, wreaks profound havoc with our sense of justice and the conviction that good begets good.
Rivka’s and Gabi’s idealism should not have cost them their lives. The tragedy raises questions that elicit no satisfying answers, only stunned speechlessness. The deafening silence of Aron, the high priest, grief struck at the sudden death of his two sons in the Sanctuary, reverberates with us today.
Still, Jewish people, no strangers to persecution, are skilled at teasing out thin rays of light, even where they seem most indiscernible. Here too, the men and women of Chabad-Lubavitch sift through the debris of shattered remains in search of goodness.
Like all depraved criminals, the Mumbai terrorists were shortsighted. The savage violence they inflicted against Gabi and Rivka, and all their victims, has awakened a spirit of unity among an often fragmented Jewish people. Their brutality evoked a visceral disgust towards the evil they represent, and galvanized a heartening response of solidarity among Jews and non-Jews, spurring so many to participate in positive, holy and joyful activities.
Thousands of Jewish women have begun to kindle Shabbat candles to perpetuate the peace and light that Rivka and Gabi shared. People the world over are choosing to engage in daily mitzvahs, from the universal to the particular, in a decisive move towards a more purposeful, compassionate and G-dly society. Perfect strangers have named their babies born after the Mumbai tragedy for Gavriel and Rivka.
I can think of no better riposte to the terror inflicted against Gabi and Rivka. Since this fateful tragedy, this young couple and the ideals that defined their lives have come alive to millions.
Chabad-Lubavitch will rebuild in India and keep the hospitality and outreach of Gabi and Rivka going. Their life-work will be emulated in the many new Chabad Houses we will open. We will do our best to ensure that they are secure and safe for Shluchim and travelers. We will answer attempts to intimidate Jewish life and Jewish values with enhanced activities and opportunities to identify proudly as Jews.
To those who ask what they can do to help: Join hands with the men and women of Chabad-Lubavitch, hard at work in the nooks and crannies of the world with a passion for good that surpasses any for evil.
Make contact with your nearest Chabad-Lubavitch representative and offer to put your individual resources, your skills, and your contacts, to work.
The momentum for the empowerment of the good beckons our unified, resolute response. Together, we can turn popular mantras about a kinder and gentler world into indisputable facts on the ground, even in Mumbai.
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky is Chairman of the worldwide Educational and Social Services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement