Front view of the Nariman House a week after the attacks
Location within Mumbai
|Former names||Nariman House|
|Alternative names||Chabad house|
|Address||5 Hormusji Street, Colaba|
|Coordinates||18°54′59″N 72°49′40″E / 18.916517°N 72.827682°E|
|Elevation||17 m (56 ft)|
The Nariman House (Marathi: नरीमन हाउस), renamed as Chabad House (Hebrew: בית חב"ד Beit Chabad), is a five-story landmark in the Colaba area of South Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. The building was home to a Chabad house, a Jewish outreach centre run by Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who owned the building since around 2006. The centre had an educational center, a synagogue, offered drug prevention services, and a hostel. The building was attacked and six of its occupants, including Holtzberg and his wife, who was five months pregnant, were killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Their two-year-old son Moshe survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel.
It is one of 4,000 such houses in 73 countries, typically run by husband-and-wife couples. In 2003, this Chabad House, the first in Mumbai, was opened by Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, newly married and run by them. It catered to Israelis who are on their way to "party hotspots" such as Goa and Rajasthan, in addition to the city's local Jewish community and traveling Jewish businessmen. The Holtzbergs also ran a synagogue and taught Torah classes, in addition to the rabbi conducting weddings for local Jewish couples. It is the Chabad headquarters for Mumbai. The place was open to anyone who wanted a place to pray, eat kosher food or celebrate Jewish holidays. In a film in 2006, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg said that anyone who visited the center was welcome. It was not unusual for the Rabbi and his wife to have 30 people for dinner. Gavriel (born 1979, raised in Brooklyn, New York) and Rivka (born 1980 in Afula, Israel) Holtzberg came to Mumbai in 2003 after completing a mission in Thailand.
Three flights a week bring hundreds of Israeli travelers from Israel to Mumbai and in an interview Holtzberg said he understood the nature of their needs. The young rabbi, who was born in Israel but grew up in Brooklyn, said that they "need relief" from the army, from work, from real life. He said, "they come here to do everything the army didn't allow them to do. Their shoes had to be polished and tied—here they wear sandals. They had to cut their hair—here they grow their hair long."
In addition, "Jews from all nationalities stopped there—primarily Israelis, but also those from Singapore and other places. It was almost like a second home to them," said Elijah Jacob, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's country manager for India. "Our country director used to say it was like a second home to him because of all of the Jews there on Shabbat."
Gavriel also helped with some of the local synagogues. He helped them gather donations, do fund-raising for the synagogue T'feret Israel, in central Mumbai in Jacobs Circle, and helped build a mikvah there. Also, he was officially a shochet, making chickens available to the local Jewish community, making challah for the community, and the couple was "available for the community," there to answer Halakhic principles of the local community.
Chabad officials said they were certain the Mumbai house would reopen, and within hours of news of the Holtzbergs' deaths, young Chabad couples from around the world offered to move to Mumbai to continue their work.
2008 Mumbai Attack
Nariman House was seized and attacked during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. At around 21:45, on Wednesday, 26 November, four attackers launched an attack on the centre. Newscasters were calling it the "final assault". The building is near the Leopold Cafe, another establishment attacked during the strike. However, a later report alleged that Nariman House was actually the main target of the series of attacks and the rest of the targets were only to amplify the effect.
Initially it was reported that six Israeli Jews were being held hostage. Later, Chabad spokesman in Israel, Moni Ender, said that there were at least eight Israelis inside the house, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. The rabbi's two-year-old son Moshe was rescued by his nanny, Sandra Samuel, who had worked for the centre for the previous five years. The hostages were allegedly tortured. Some of the victims had been bound.
It was reported that gunmen fired indiscriminately towards those present. Late on 27 November, unnamed Maharashtra government officials said that eight hostages had been released. Later, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that the eight people seen near Chabad House were not Jewish hostages but local Indians from a home in the same compound. Early on 28 November a large blast was heard at the centre as fighting continued, even though other sources were reporting that the building was under the control of Indian security forces.
During the siege U.S. Chabad official Rabbi Levi Shemtov talked with one of the attackers on Holtzberg's cell phone. The FBI and other negotiation experts helped guide him through the process, which included around five phone calls. Having to find an Urdu speaker to speak with him, they were unable to directly speak to any of the hostages, but Shemtov did say he heard the voice of one woman screaming in English, "please help immediately."
Shortly before dawn, Indian security forces began an attack on Nariman House that lasted until after sundown. The operation began when 22 NSG Commandos rappelled out from an Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter on the roof of the building. NSG Commandos were in position in the adjacent buildings to provide cover fire to the assault team if needed. Commandos entered the building from the top and two loud blasts were heard followed by heavy gunfire. Most of the operation was broadcast live on television as news footage showed troops abseiling from a helicopter into the building and soldiers on the ground closing in. Initially it was reported that five hostages were killed, but it was later upgraded to six deaths, eight by Saturday morning after two missing Israelis made contact with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. When the raid ended at sundown everyone inside the building was dead, including the rabbi and his wife. An Indian commando, Havaldar Gajendra Singh Bisht, was killed during the operation. According to ZAKA members, at least one hostage, Holtzberg, might have been killed in the crossfire when the commandos moved in; this was rejected by government authorities as stories and irresponsible comments.
Some of the other hostages were killed by the attackers on the first night and the following day. Rivka Holtzberg and Yocheved Orpaz had been killed many hours before Nariman House was retaken. It is also believed that Gabi Holtzberg and his pregnant wife were sexually assaulted and their genitals mutilated before they were killed.
|Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg||29||Brooklyn, United States (and dual Israeli citizenship)|
|Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg||28||Afula, Israel|
|Bentzion Kruman||26||Bat Yam, Israel (and dual US citizenship)|
|Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum||37||Brooklyn, United States|
|Yoheved Orpaz||62||Givatayim, Israel|
|Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich||50||Mexico|
- Chabad-Lubavitch – Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch released a statement that read: "Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg [sic] made the ultimate sacrifice. As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting business people. For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty. Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started."
- Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told more than 1,000 people at a memorial service organised by the Australian Jewish community at the Yeshiva Centre, Melbourne, that Holtzberg and his wife had "devoted their lives to acts of goodness and kindness and compassion for others ... but they lost their lives in a senseless act of hatred. In the face of this terror we must not bow to fear. We must respond by spreading our own message of tolerance and respect for people of other backgrounds and other beliefs." Federal Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. Consul-General Judith Fergin also spoke at the memorial service. A representative from the Indian Consulate was also present. In a speech to Federal Parliament, Michael Danby, the Jewish Labour MP for the seat of Melbourne Ports, Victoria, said it was important to remember the names of the innocent victims of Mumbai attacks, stating that "I raise my voice in this national parliament and praise the memory of those innocent kedoshim who were killed in the Chabad House in Mumbai only because they were Jews."
- Canada – Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at a Parliament Hill ceremony organised by Chabad-Lubavitch to honour the Jewish victims of the attacks. He expressed condolences over the death of Holtzberg and his wife. Harper described the killings as "affronts to the values that unite all civilised people" and that bigotry towards Jews "is a pernicious evil that must be exposed, that must be confronted, that must be repudiated, whenever and wherever it appears." He added that the quick installment of a new rabbi at the Chabad centre in Mumbai would be a signal that the Jewish people will "never bow to violence and hatred."
- Israel – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that "this terrible sight of Chabad House leaders wrapped in prayer shawls is shocking. These are pictures that bring us back to the moments in history which we had hoped would never return. It seems that hatred of Jews and Israelis provides motivation for such murderous acts...Last week was marked by among the most serious terrorist attacks India has ever known in Mumbai and which were the product of extremist Islam—brutal and unrestrained, which tries to sow death and destruction wherever it can. There is no doubt that these attacks were designed, inter alia, to intentionally harm Jewish institutions. The hatred of Jews, the state of Israel, and Jewish symbols is still a factor that spurs and encourages such murderous acts." Foreign Minister and Acting Prime Minister Tzipi Livni said: "The fact that the assault happened at a Chabad House symbolises more than anything the fact that this assault targeted Jews, Israelis. Israel, India and the rest of the free world are positioned in the forefront of the battle against terrorism and extremists."
- United States – On 8 December 2008, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen stated in speech to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: "The images of two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg soon after his parents were mercilessly struck down in Chabad house should not ever leave us."
- New York – Hillary Clinton, Junior Senator of New York and announced Secretary of State said: "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families touched by these acts of terror in Mumbai. We still do not know the full measure of this tragedy, which has taken the lives of Indian citizens, Americans, and others who had traveled to Mumbai from around the world. Two New Yorkers, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg of Brooklyn are among those who have died, leaving behind their young son. The young couple had traveled from Brooklyn to manage a small Chabad house, welcoming Jews from India and elsewhere to learn, pray, and serve the community. There could be no sharper a reminder, nor a more poignant call to action, than the brutal and heinous violence visited upon the Nariman House and the Holtzberg family, living and working in Mumbai on a mission of peace, scholarship, and spiritual guidance. As those responsible are brought to justice, as we aid and support the victims and their families, as we work to defeat radical extremism and the terror it spawns, let us find strength in knowing that in the face of those who seek to take lives, there are those who seek to give hope and comfort. In the face of those who wish only to destroy, there are individuals like Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg who travel great distances far from their homes to build a better world."
- New York – Governor of New York David A. Paterson said: "Michelle and I are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths of those whose lives were lost in Mumbai, India due to senseless acts of terror. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims' families including those of Alan and Naomi Scherr from Virginia and native New Yorker Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, as well as the family of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg from Brooklyn, New York. The Holtzbergs moved from Crown Heights, Brooklyn to India in 2003 to lead the Nariman House, home to the Chabad Lubavitch community in Mumbai and to Jewish visitors from around the world. They and Rabbi Teitelbaum were deeply committed to providing the local Jewish community and Jewish tourists with a place to gather and learn and to provide them with spiritual guidance. Today, as every day, we stand in solidarity with those who preach democracy and peace."
- New York City – Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg said: "Today we learned we have lost two New Yorkers: Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. This is a tragic loss for the Lubavitch community, and for our entire City. ...That their son survived is a miracle, and our entire City is grateful for his nanny's heroic act. During a time of terrible sadness, her courage re-affirms our faith in the capacity of good to triumph over evil. ...Our hearts go out to the Lubavitch community, and to the many New Yorkers of all different religions and ethnicities who have been affected by the attacks. We will continue to pray for all of them, for all the people of Mumbai, for an immediate end to the violence, and for the release of all hostages."
- Brooklyn, New York – Brooklyn borough President Marty Markowitz said: "We join the Brooklyn Lubavitch, Volove, and Satmar communities and all Brooklynites in expressing our outrage over the senseless and cruel murders of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife Rivka, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter Naomi of Virginia, and all of the innocents murdered and wounded in Mumbai. The monsters responsible for these attacks are attempting to undermine democracy in peace-loving nations everywhere, but this savagery only strengthens our resolve to eradicate terrorism and such atrocities against innocents of all faiths, wherever they exist. The Holtzbergs could have lived a simple and quiet life in Crown Heights, where Rabbi Holtzberg grew up, but their sense of religious duty took them to India to run Mumbai's Chabad House, which, under their stewardship, became a comforting home away from home for thousands of Jews. HaMakom y'nachem eschem b'soch sh'ar aveilei Tzion v'Yerushalayim—May G-d comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
- President-elect Barack Obama said, "Michelle and I want to express our profound sorrow and heartfelt condolences over the terrible tragedy that befell the Chabad Lubavitch community, and indeed the entire Jewish community, last week in Mumbai. We mourn the loss of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, and all their Chabad House guests, in these attacks. They were taken from us by terrorists with no regard for human life, and we must remain steadfast in support of efforts to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice you mourn and remember those we lost, you should know that so many Americans share your grief and pain. May their memories be a blessing."
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- Sarah Avraham, who with her family was close friends with the Holtzbergs, and who in the wake of the attack and the killings converted to Judaism, and immigrated to Israel.
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