By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2008
NEW YORK -- In the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn on Friday, Lubavitch Jews reacted with shock and grief to news that the bodies of Rabbi Gavriel N. Holtzberg, 29, and his Israeli wife, Rivka, 28, had been found inside the blasted shell of the outreach center they ran in Mumbai.
Many people here had been praying for the Holtzbergs for days -- gathering in synagogues in the afternoons, murmuring wishes for their well-being at home with family in the evenings, saying psalms at the global headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement deep into the night. Later, black-clad men and boys stood outside on the wide, tree-lined boulevard of Eastern Parkway as the news they had hoped not to hear shot through the crowd.
"They were killed," whispered Yeshiva boys just out of school, holding scooters and book bags.
Grown men turned and strode away, suddenly tearing up.
"I don't understand how this works," said Yosef Rodal, 18, a yeshiva student who said Gavriel Holtzberg was a distant relative. "How do bad things happen to good people?"
" 'Distraught' is not even the word," said Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago, who said his son had been a friend and classmate of Gavriel Holtzberg. "It's a terrible pain."
Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, both born in Israel, left Crown Heights in 2003 shortly after their marriage. They moved to Mumbai to direct the Chabad center known as Nariman House, where they ran a synagogue, led religious classes and social activities, and helped people in need, from drug addicts to the poor.
After men firing automatic weapons and tossing grenades burst into Nariman House on Wednesday, Gavriel Holtzberg, a U.S. citizen, was able to reach the Israeli consulate by phone. "The situation is not good . . .," he began, in Hebrew, but the connection was cut off, Chabad officials here said.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the vice chairman of education for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said he was the Holtzbergs' supervisor and had been in frequent contact with them. He described the young couple as delighted with their work in India and full of "joy and alacrity and determination," adding that Gavriel Holtzberg was "a real mensch."
"We are going to miss him very dearly," Kotlarsky said as he broke down in tears. "He was a very, very special person -- him and his wife."
About 12 hours after the initial attack, Sandra Samuel, a cook, heard the cries of Moshe, the Holtzbergs' toddler son, outside the room where she had barricaded herself, the Associated Press reported. She opened the door, grabbed the boy, and ran outside. The child's pants were soaked with blood, and Samuel said she saw four people lying on the floor as she fled.
Moshe will turn 2 years old on Saturday, said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the chairman of education and social services for Chabad-Lubavitch, but is now "an orphan without a dad and mom to celebrate with him."
The Holtzbergs also had an older son who was ill and was not in Mumbai, Chabad officials said, and another son who died this year of a genetic disease.
"Everyone is dealing with the situation as best they can," said Yacov Young, Gavriel Holtzberg's cousin. Young added that his only relief is that young Moshe "is safe with his Israeli grandparents."
In Brooklyn, the Lubavitch community mobilized politically and spiritually, posting messages on Web sites and circulating e-mails urging Lubavitchers to say psalms for the victims. The New York Police Department helped connect leaders in Crown Heights with State Department officials in Washington and abroad, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a news conference on Friday at the Jewish Children's Museum.
"It is a reminder of just how connected we are, when an act happens around the world and has significant impact on our city," Kelly said. He said extra police officers had been assigned to Crown Heights and other Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in the city. He said the department might consider sending an officer to Mumbai to investigate, as it did after the commuter train bombings in that city in 2006.
Gavriel Holtzberg's parents, Noah and Freida, traveled from their Crown Heights home to Israel on Thursday, Chabad officials said. Rivka Holtzberg's parents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, who live in Israel, flew to Mumbai on Thursday to care for Moshe.
Officials at the Chabad center said that three others who had been visiting the Holtzbergs had also been found dead in the building: Leibish Teitlebaumat, an American; Bentzion Chroman, who had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship; and an Israeli woman whose name was not released.