Extremist Muslims lashing out angrily at the West, as leverage on the Hindu majority in India, have slaughtered over 100 people in the Indian city of Mumbai. These people were killed, in classical Islamist terrorist style, for just being who they are. So naturally the Jews were on their list of targets too, and the latest news is that “ten to twenty” Israelis are being held hostage in Mumbai’s Chabad House and a Mumbai hotel.
What’s a Chabad house? CHABAD is the Hebrew acronym for the words chochma, bina and daas — wisdom, understanding and knowledge — which form the basis of the philosophy of these Orthodox Jews, hasidim of the Lubavitch movement (named after a Russian town whence sprung their grand rabbis). Chabad has been controversial among Jews for over half a century, both for important aspects of its philosophy that distinguish it from other Orthodox Jewish approaches and the messianic inclinations of a significant percentage of its adherents regarding the movement’s late Grand Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a multifaceted genius who passed away 14 years ago and who despite his revolutionary leadership did not bring the Redemption.
Antipathy towards Lubavitch, or Chabad, has been intense among non-Lubavitchers among the strictly Orthodox for many years, in fact, and there is very little interaction between this group and the rest of us, even though many — such as myself — were profoundly and positively influenced by them at one time in their lives, frequently as a result of Chabad’s groundbreaking worldwide outreach efforts. Their interest has always been to recapture the spark of Jewishness in every child of the people Israel, though as is our practice not to proselytize outside of this extended family. But as to those within, not a single Jewish soul, they believed, taught and lived, is to be written off. Unfortunately, and ironically, their subculture within the broader strictly Orthodox Jewish subculture has departed so far from the main that, in the principal centers of Jewish life, Lubavitchers and other strictly orthodox Jews, including other hasidic groups, seldom mix.
But today we are all Lubavitchers, all Chabadniks. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg were sent to Mumbai by Lubavitch to do their part to account for the thousands of Jewish souls, many Israeli, doing business, and others seeking (we believe, erroneously) spiritual enlightenment, in this major Indian city. They manned the Chabad House in Mumbai and met the expectation of every Jew who travels the world that in any place where it is likely that more than a handful of Jews might be found, there is a Chabad House (frequently where the Chabad rabbi and his family live) to offer Shabbos (Sabbath) hospitality, kosher food, perhaps even a bed for a few days, a connection to the root of the Jewish world and perhaps a little mashke (straight vodka) and a few hasidic stories more than “thrown in” for inspiration.
The latest report on the status of the Holtzbergs, their place and their persons targeted, as persons such as these have always been, is not encouraging.
And though 100 have already died senselessly to feed the rage of the impotent and the failed, you will I hope forgive me for focusing, just as Americans have more interest in the fate of their own brethren in such a tragedy, on that of my extended family members, the Holtzbergs, who extended themselves — as Chabadniks do — to others. They brought their family to a place far from home in every sense, so that countless others whom they never met but for whom they cared as if it were their own family would feel, themselves, just a little bit less far from home… and, perhaps, would return home … in every sense … tomorrow.
None of the bad news regarding the Holtzbergs as of this writing is of a final nature [UPDATE: though it is increasingly grim, down only to “unconfirmed” worst-case scenario for the the Holtzbergs] — so, as the Lubavitch spokesman and others have asked, please say Psalms for the Rabbi and his wife, whose Jewish names are Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis, as well as, of course, anyone affected by the tragedy. That includes all of us.
UPDATE: Roger Simon, “an agnostic Jew”:
It’s clear the young Lubavitcher couple murdered by the terrorists, Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivka, were the finest of human beings. They were dedicated to promoting goodness in the world in the deepest spiritual sense. They wished only the best for all humanity and also did their best to encourage it, in fact gave their lives for it. You don’t have to believe in G-d or even God to understand that. Their horrifying deaths reminded this agnostic that there is indeed something called evil in the world.
So now what do I do? What, indeed, do we all do?