FaithWorld

New rabbi for Mumbai Jewish centre attacked in 2008

narimanIt 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.

gechtmanThis 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.

On a recent visit to New York, I went to the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch to find out more about this network, which has expanded dramatically over the past few decades.  The Crown Heights section of  Brooklyn seems an unlikely place for the world headquarters of anything, but the house at 770 Eastern Parkway has been Chabad’s base since 1940, when the then leader, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland. The last Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, worked there until his death in 1994. Chabad also has a large building next door.

Museum exhibit unveils Andy Warhol’s Catholic, abstract side

warhol last supper (Photo: Andy Warhol’s work “The Last Supper” from 1986/The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts)

As a pop art pioneer, Andy Warhol blazed his way to fame with trademark Brillo soap pad boxes and silk-screens of Campbell’s Soup cans.  But a new museum exhibit shows pop art was just a seven-year phase for Warhol in the 1960s, before his 1980s plunge into abstract art and Christian imagery, particularly his versions of “The Last Supper.”

Flippant, brazen and flamboyant as an art world personality, Warhol long kept private his devout, lifelong Catholicism.

“Only his closest confidants knew he was a religious person and frequently went to Mass,” said Sharon Matt Atkins, coordinating curator of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” which opens on June 18.

GUESTVIEW: Interfaith encounter at a Catholic school in Brooklyn

brooklyn (Photo: Brooklyn, with Manhattan in the background, 21 Sept 2008/Ray Stubblebine)

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 and Raffaele Timarchi is the Interfaith Center‘s education director.

By Matthew Weiner and Raffaele Timarchi

Why should students in urban high schools learn about religion?

The Interfaith Center of New York recently received a call from Penny Kapanika, a social studies teacher at Nazareth Regional High School in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Canarsie lies on the eastern edge of Brooklyn, next to Jamaica Bay. To get to the school, you take the number 4 subway train to the end of the line, hop on a bus down Utica Avenue and finally walk to a sparsely populated neighborhood that was once an Italian and Jewish hold out against white flight.

Nazareth, a Roman Catholic school, is now ethnically African American and Caribbean. In the old days, students came from the neighborhood, but now most of them take the bus from Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant. Only 51% of the kids are Catholic, but most are Christian. The kids, though, live amongst Hasidic Jews  in Crown Heights, where a history of racial conflict still looms large, and Muslims in “Bed Stuy,” one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.