Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An opportunity for mitzvah in the midst of mourning

Monday night and elsewhere around the world, Chabad organizations began to unveil a very determined and organized campaign to keep the spirit of Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg alive several days after their shattered bodies were discovered at the Nariman House, the Chabad House in Mumbai. While similar faith-based groups might point to the need to keep their programs alive and campaign for monetary contributions in the memory of those lost, Chabad asked instead for a commitment from those attending the memorials that was far more lasting than financial. After showing short videos on the lives and sharing some of the experiences of the Holtzbergs, they asked for mitzvahs to be observed. They asked that Jews be more Jewish in the way they live so that the Holtzbergs loss to the world would become more of a blessing than a tragedy. Women who never light Shabbat candles or men who never lay teffillin (phylacteries), for example, were encouraged to start. Everyone was asked to learn to read Torah or to begin to keep a kosher home. What they asked for in return were small items to some, but reflected a lifetime of commitment to Jewish faith and practice. Chabad's shluchim reflect on the Hebrew word shaliah, which means "legal emissary." The first shaliah to whom the Torah refers is Eliezer, who was sent by Abraham to find a wife for his son Issac. The Chabad organization has sent hundreds of shluchim across the globe for decades to areas that are somewhat devoid of observance (domestic posts like here in New Orleans) and to places that are flashpoints for violence or under oppression from governments (places like the Congo and Morocco come to mind). Similar husband and wife or rabbi and rebbetzen teams have willingly left the relative safety of American homes to struggle in far-away lands attempting to build Jewish homes and community. It is incredible for me to consider that they are all observant Jews inspiring others there with acts of chesed (kindness) and ask nothing more than that Jews live a more observant lifestyle. To this end the site has created a "good deed" site where others can pledge their mitzvot (commandments) in memory of the Holtzbergs. Meanwhile, the Holtzbergs were buried to the tears of hundreds of compatriots and family members there. Both Holtzbergs carried Israeli citizenship, although Rabbi Gavriel was a naturalized American who held dual citizenship. Tragically, the Holtzbergs lost a very young daughter to a genetic disease this past year and the fact that Rivkah was six months pregnant at the time of her murder was revealed by her grandfather, a Chabad rabbi living there. The brightest spot in the midst of this very grave event was the successful rescue of Moshe, the Holtzbergs' son who turned two this past Saturday. The nanny, Sandra Samuel, is being considered for the coveted title of "Righteous Gentile," a term that Yad Vashem, the Israeli organization that bestows the honor, usually only considers for rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust who did so at great peril to themselves. Obviously, Samuel's actions meant life for the Holtzberg family in the midst of death. Her brave actions ensured the survival of the young boy who cried "Ima...Ima! (Mama...Mama!) at his parents' funeral yesterday. She arrived in Israel on a visa Monday night and will stay with Moshe for at least a year. If bestowed the title of Righteous Gentile, Samuel may elect to stay there permanently. In the meantime, one does not have to be Jewish to remember the victims of the Mumbai Massacre. There were 172 people slaughtered in coordinated attacks of terror in the city formerly known as Bombay. If we all do one thing in remembrance of those slain -- act with kindness towards one of our fellow humans near us -- we will honor their memories to the penultimate degree and cheat their murderers of any victory.

1 comment:

LilaTovCocktail said...

Thanks for the info -- I hadn't read about this anywhere else yet.

I have Mumbai-induced muteness: I still haven't figured out what I want to say/blog about it. Still stuck on disbelief and outrage.