Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg knew that their daughter, Rivka, and son-in-law, Gavriel Holzberg, were dead. But they still insisted on celebrating Shabbat in a joyful atmosphere.
The couple had left Israel on the first available flight as soon as they heard of the attack. On arrival, they learnt that there was almost no hope. Rabbi Rosenberg, a veteran Chabad shaliach from Afula, did not ask to be taken to the area of the Chabad House. Instead the couple were reunited with their grandson Moishy, rescued from the building by two local employees, Sandra Samuel and Zaki Hussein. At the flat of one of the Israeli diplomats they began to prepare for Shabbat.
Friends, officials, reporters all streamed to the flat to meet the couple. Yehudit mainly said tehillim [psalms] but Shimon greeted the visitors jovially, enquiring whether they had eaten and talking about his own experiences in the Chabad service and that of Gabi and Rivky.
Whenever the subject of their fate came up, he stopped for a moment, looked up to the heavens, smiled and continued talking. Moishy ran around the flat in his pyjamas, trailed by Sandra, and playfully ran away from the visitors who tried to scoop him up. That Shabbat was his second birthday.
Most of the visitors knew that Gabi and Rivky’s bodies had been found. No-one wanted to talk to the couple about it before the end of Shabbat. In the morning, one Israeli could bear it no longer.
“I can’t look in your eyes any more,” he said, “you have to know the truth but you mustn’t cry now, you have to be proud of Gabi and Rivky because what they did made a huge difference to all of our lives.” Only at seven in the evening did the Israeli Consul General, Orna Sagiv, arrive formally to notify the family. After sitting with her talking quietly for half an hour, Shimon got up and led the evening prayer, his voice almost breaking only once, during Kaddish.
At a memorial service in Mumbai’s Knesset Eliahu synagogue the next day, speeches were made by Rabbi Rosenberg, Israel’s ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, the president of the community, Solomon Sofer, and senior Chabad rabbis who had flown in especially from Israel. But all that those who were present will ever remember was Moishy sitting on Zaki Hussein’s lap, crying out “Ima, Ima” and refusing to be consoled.
In the crowded Culabar neighbourhood, residents had treated the Lubavitchers in Nariman House as members of just one more of the thousands of religious sects existing in India. They knew Gabi as the man who every week bought huge quantities of food, especially hundreds of live chickens. Gabi, a trained shochet, would slaughter the chickens himself in the courtyard and was the main supplier of kosher meat to many Jews, not only in Mumbai but throughout South India. Gabi also travelled frequently to other Chabad houses in India and Thailand to slaughter chickens for them.
“Rivky knew I loved livers and she always used to keep a store of them for me,” said one of the security officers at the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai. “On the night of the attack, she called me up to say that I should pop over to pick up some livers. The next call I got was from the consul to tell me the Chabad House had been attacked.”
Gabi and Rivky made regular food deliveries to Israelis in prison, in and around Mumbai. Last Yom Kippur eve, they received a phone call from a prisoner three hours away from the city and sent over a driver to make sure he was supplied with kosher meals for before and after the fast.
The Chabad House not only served Israeli and Jewish backpackers but was also a home to Jews who found themselves stuck penniless in Mumbai. Some of them had become addicted to drugs in nearby Goa. Others had been arrested and had their passports confiscated and were trapped in the city for months. They could sleep and eat at the Chabad House without charge.
This was the vocation the young couple embarked on when they arrived in the heat of Mumbai five years ago. One of the first people they met, at a synagogue reception for a visiting Israeli dignitary, was Yael Jhirad, the chair of WIZO India.
She said: “I saw this young lady who looked very Orthodox, standing on her own with a baby in a pram. I introduced myself and asked who she was. She said she was the rabbi’s wife and had come to Mumbai a month previously.
“There had never been a Chabad house in Mumbai. When I asked how long she planned to be in India, Rivka said: ‘until Moshiach comes’. I was stunned and I started looking at this girl who was 22 or 23. I remember someone so young, so new, but who had such a clear idea of what they were here for.”
Both Israeli-born, Gavriel, who was 29, and Rivka, a year younger, had married a year before they left for India.
The couple also endured personal tragedy in their short married life. Two of their children developed Tay-Sachs disease, which claimed the life of their first child, Mendel. A second child was being treated in Israel when the terrorists struck. Rivka was five months pregnant when she was killed.
Two travellers enjoying the Holtzberg’s hospitality also shared their tragic fate. Yocheved Orpaz, 60, of Givatayim, Israel, had been in India to visit her daughter Ayala and two grandchildren, who were travelling there. She had stopped at the Chabad House for a brief visit on her way back to Israel.
“She was an amazing and noble woman and a mother of four,” said her sister Orly. “She loved to travel.”
Ayala came to Mumbai to search for her mother but was only told after Shabbat that her body had been identified.
Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, 50, a divorced mother-of-three from Mexico, had been travelling across India for the past two months. She had been volunteering and staying at the Chabad House and had planned to fly to Israel on Monday to celebrate her youngest son’s 18th birthday and to make her home there.
Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, 37, a US citizen and father-of-eight who lived in Jerusalem, was on his way back from China where he had been sent by an American kashrut organisation to oversee a canning factory there.
Accompanying him was Rabbi Bentzion Chroman, 28, from Bat Yam, Israel.
The father-of-three had told his wife Emunah in a final phone call that he was going to pop in to have dinner at Chabad House before catching a flight back to Israel.