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It was almost two years ago that Islamist militants attacked Mumbai and killed at least 166 people. Among them were six Jews, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Most non-Jewish readers probably had no idea what a Brooklyn-based Jewish couple was doing there. Many Jews would have known right away -- they were running the Chabad House, one of a worldwide network of Jewish centres run by Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement devoted to supporting Jewish life wherever it may be found. (Photo: Indian commandos atop Chabad centre after explosion during militant siege, 28 Nov 2008/Punit Paranjpe)
The news angle to this story is that the Mumbai centre has a new rabbi, just in time for the High Holidays, as reported in my feature here. Rabbi Chanoch Gechtman arrived there recently with his wife Leiky to take up the challenge of filling Holtzberg's shoes. "I still can't quite fathom that they are not here, they were such extraordinary people," he said in an email from Mumbai. After all the damage to the original building, they've moved to another building not far away, but the address is not advertised on their website for understandable reasons.
This could be a daunting assignment, but Gechtman, 25, seemed eager to get to work. "People really believe in this city. It’s a place with a lot of energy; it’s full of life," he said. "There is really an endless amount of work to be accomplished. And the Holtzbergs set the bar very high." The work is literally endless -- a couple that goes out on an assignment like this is expected to stay permanently. The commitment for the "shluchim," as these emissaries are called, is supposed to be for life. And it's a job for both the rabbi and his wife. Running a Chabad House means offering services such as kosher Sabbath dinners, Torah classes, youth programmes, day care facilities, summer camps and women's ritual baths. It's an open house for any Jew who wants to participate -- locals, expatriates or tourists passing through the city. (Photo: Leiky and Chanoch Gechtman/Chabad.org)
"The Mumbai Jewish community definitely wants to move beyond 26/11. While we will obviously never forget what happened, we need to focus forward on helping the many people who need our assistance, so that Jewish life flourishes here," Gechtman said.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace and editor of InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook (SkyLight, 2008).
By Matthew Weiner and Rev. Bud Heckman
Mary Rosenblatt grew up Jewish, she married a Catholic and her children are "exposed to both faiths." In her adult life, she has become particularly drawn to meditation as practiced by a local Buddhist circle. If she participated in a survey about religious identity, how might she be portrayed? And what about her kids?
The third annual list of "America's Most Influential Rabbis" is out, with the top spot going to David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism and co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious liberty.
Saperstein, described in the announcement as a "Washington insider and political powerbroker," took the No. 1 ranking away from Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who held that position on last year's list.
The two-day hostage drama at Mumbai's Jewish centre ended tragically on Friday when Indian anti-terrorist forces stormed Chabad House, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish community center, only to find Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and three other hostages had been killed by Islamist gunmen.
The Israeli-born rabbi, who grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York, arrived in Mumbai in 2003 with his Israeli wife to serve the small Jewish community there, running a synagogue and Torah classes, and assisting Jewish tourists in the seaside city.
"The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win," said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world's largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. "Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world," he said. "People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis ... We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow."
Read our feature "Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis" here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today's Poles. "I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted," he said.