Rabbi, wife to be buried in Israel

November 29, 2008 6:10:26 PM PST
Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, had no fear when they embarked on their mission to open a Jewish center in the Indian city of Mumbai, her brother said Saturday night as relatives in Israel prepared to bury the couple slain in a three-day terror spree. The 29-year-old rabbi, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, and his 28-year-old Israeli wife were among nine killed in the center run by the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect. In all, nearly 200 people in the city died in the 60-hour rampage by suspected Muslim militants. The carnage ended earlier Saturday.

"She went with courage to this mission in India," Rivkah's brother Shmuel Rosenberg told The Associated Press after the end of the Jewish Sabbath. He described her as a strong, industrious and intelligent woman with a nuanced mind. "She had no fear," and neither did her husband, he said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said nine people were killed in an attack on the Chabad House, part of a spectacular assault on luxury hotels and other targets frequented by foreigners across the city.

Most were Israelis, some with dual American citizenship, and all of them Jewish.

Indian commandos stormed the building on Friday, but none of the hostages was found alive.

The couple, members of the New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch sect who lived in both Brooklyn and Israel before they went to India in 2003, were sent on a mission to provide Jewish businesspeople and backpackers "with a kosher place to eat, a warm place to visit, put on phylacteries, hear a sermon, or receive a blessing from a rabbi," said Rivkah's brother.

Israelis living in the sprawling city were like family at the center, where Rivkah would cook for dozens of visitors every night, he said.

The Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch sect has thousands of envoys on similar outreach missions all over the world.

The Holtzbergs will be flown to Israel for burial, Rosenberg said. A Chabad spokesman said they likely would be buried Monday.

The couple's toddler son, Moshe, who had his second birthday Saturday, was spirited out of the five-story building by a center employee Thursday morning, unharmed but his pants soaked with blood. Another son, who was ailing, was in Israel at the time.

By late Saturday, three other victims at the Chabad House in addition to the Holtzbergs had been identified: Bentzion Chroman, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a U.S. citizen who lived in Jerusalem, and an Israeli tourist, Yocheved Orpaz.

Israeli media reported that the victims were found wrapped in prayer shawls in accordance with Jewish burial tradition. The reports speculated that one of the hostages wrapped the bodies before he was killed.

At the Chabad sect's center in Israel, Kfar Chabad, Sabbath began before the hostages were confirmed dead. Orthodox Jews are forbidden to use phones or other electronic devices until the Sabbath ends at sundown Saturday. On Friday night, worshippers recited the Book of Psalms, prayers Jews sometimes invoke in the hope of averting tragedy.

But when the Sabbath ended, their worst fears were confirmed.

"Chabad is one big family. We all know everyone, so it is a terrible, intimate and profound loss," group spokesman Moni Ender said, speaking from Kfar Chabad.

A little-known Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility for the attacks. But Indian officials pointed a finger at neighboring Pakistan.

Israeli officials said the assault on the Jewish center was no coincidence.

"The fact that the attack took place at the Chabad House is the clearest sign that the attack was directed against Jews and Israelis," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday.

Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, wondered publicly whether Indian security forces performed as competently as Israel, with its vaunted military, might have hoped.

The gunmen entered the Jewish center Wednesday night. But Indian commandos, some rappelling onto the roof by ropes from a helicopter, did not storm it until early Friday.

Barak acknowledged the complexity of ending multiple, simultaneous attacks but said Indian forces were not on par with elite Israeli units.

"I'm not sure it had to last three days, but that's what happened," he said Friday night.

India has become a favorite destination for Israelis, and thousands of backpackers head there each year in what has become a coming-of-age ritual after military service.

Israel has in the past warned its travelers to maintain a low profile while visiting overseas and not to draw attention to themselves. But the Foreign Ministry has not issued a travel advisory on India since the Mumbai attack.

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On the Net:
Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center: http://www.chabad.org/

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