by Sarah Vorchheimer
All sectors of the Sydney Community came together to Sydney’s Yeshiva Centre – the official NSW Chabad headquarters – to give a tribute to the holy martyrs of the Mumbai massacre.
Well over a thousand people crammed into every available hall and schule area of the Yeshiva and its adjacent Adler Building, utilising video links to ensure all could be afforded maximum participation.
Official supporters of the service, hosted by Chabad NSW, were NSW Chabad Houses and Synagogues, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Jewish Communal Appeal, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia, the Rabbinical Council of NSW, the Jewish National Fund, the Embassy of Israel, Canberra, the State Zionist Council, the United Israel Appeal, the Australian Union of Jewish Students, the Zionist Federation of Australia, Habonim, Hineni Youth, Bnei Akiva, Network, Netzer and Betar.
Participants included members of the general community who wished to pay tribute to the martyrs as well as of the Jewish community, for the Mumbai attacks killed Indians of all faiths, those of many nations, particularly Americans and English and, deliberately, Jews. Two Australians were amongst the dead – Mr Brett Taylor and the popular former Deputy Mayor of Woollahra, Mr Doug Markell, who, until recent years, had lived in nearby Bellevue Hill and had been Deputy Mayor of Woollahra in 1994 and 1995. Significantly, he was Managing Director of Zions Pty Ltd office supplies and stationery, which he bought some years ago.
The participants were welcomed by Rabbi Yanky Berger of Chabad House of Double Bay, a son-in-law of Rabbi Pinchas Feldman of the Yeshiva Centre, who reminded us all that the Bombay Chabad Centre, which spread Judaism to Jews and goodness and kindness to all mankind, located in an insignificant building in a narrow street, was deliberately targeted.
The reading of Psalm 121 was read in Hebrew by Rabbi Mendel Kastel and in English by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of the Great Synagogue.
The Prime Minister, the Right Hon Kevin Rudd, who had personally visited the Our Big Kitchen of the Yeshiva Centre last May, addressed the Memorial Service by videolink, praising the work of spreading goodness and kindness done worldwide by Chabad and the practical aid given by the Yeshiva Centre to Mumbai by the baking of biscuits. He remembered all the victims of the Mumbai massacre.
Local Federal Member, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Member for Wentworth and Federal Leader of the Opposition and Liberal Party Leader addressed the service with much warmth and force, using Hebrew and Yiddish to near perfection. He also spoke of both the dedication of Chabad Shelichim selflessly serving in remote locations around the world, spreading goodness and kindness and how the Chabad House and the Holtzbergs, Hy”d, who had brought joy to so many had been deliberately targeted. Mr Turnbull’s speech was met with thunderous applause.
The U.S. Consul General, Judith Fergin read speeches from both President Bush and from President elect Barak Obama.
A moving personal account of a stay at the Mumbai Chabad House was given by couple Barney Kitay and Gil Fish who had sought out the grave of Ms Fish’s great-grandmother in the Mumbai Jewish cemetery. They recounted the warmth and welcome given to them by the Holtzberg family, Hy”d, sharing the wonderful Shabbos table there and Hannukah lights being lit at the Gateway of India by Rabbi Holtzberg.
Then followed a video tribute from JLI to Mumbai- particularly to Chabad Mumbai and the Holtzberg family, Hy”d. After showing footage of the burning hotels and shot up restaurant, the video showed what a narrow back street the Chabad House was in, although it was clearly, but not prominently, signed “Chabad House”. It showed many scenes of happier times at the Chabad House in Mumbai, as well as the destruction and some hints of the horror perpetrated there. The video finished with Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, giving a tearful and heartfelt tribute to the young couple he had sent on shelichus to Mumbai to establish a Chabad house there and of the sacrifices they had made and their two orphans – particularly little Moshe who was rescued.
Then Rabbi Pinchas Feldman gave a very moving and very powerful speech “to remember, to honour and to pay tribute to those special people who were brutally murdered in Mumbai 10 days ago”. He went on to say, “We gather here this evening and mourn the innocent Indians, British, Americans, Australians and Israelis whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He spoke of the many thousands of young Chabad couples who have over the years “set out from their homes and communities to bring the warmth and beauty of Yiddishkeit to every corner of the globe and how Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg“Hy”d, were the finest ambassadors of these lofty ideals.
In answer to those asking why and how could this happen, Rabbi Feldman related the story of a testament found in a bottle amongst the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, written in the Ghetto’s last hours by Yosl Rakover of Tarnopol, a descendant of tzaddikim as the ghetto burned around him. Rabbi Feldman related the tragic deaths of Yosl’s family and then his words of affirmation of his Jewish faith – the Shema – which Rabbi Feldman shouted with all his might, and called upon those present to affirm their beliefs, to increase their performance of mitzvos in memory of the martyrs of Mumbai.
Mitzvah cards, to be given to the relatives of the martyrs and placed at the Kotel, were provided and collected at the end of the service and all were encouraged to fill out a pledge of a mitzvah.
Rabbi Feldman also praised the heroism of Sandra Samuel who saved baby Moishe Holtzberg from certain death, risking her own life when she heard his cries.
Mr Robert Goot, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry spoke next. He is a powerful speaker who pointed out that the attack on the Chabad House was not a chance event, but that it had been planned for a year beforehand. Nor was it mere happenstance. The Press had the analysis totally wrong. The victims in the Chabad House died because they were Jews and only because they were Jews and, unlike the other victims, they were horribly tortured before they were killed. He pointed out that the jihadi terrorists do not differentiate between Israelis and Jews or between one type of Jew and another. The jihadi terrorists also killed Indians and tourists indiscriminately (although they did single out Americans and British in particular), He strongly condemned the jihadi terrorist movement which had perpetuated this violence.
Mr Goot also drew the attention of the memorial service to the proposed resolutions in next year’s Durban conference.
Mr Robin Margo, President of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, spoke more moderately and pointed out that every Muslim cemetery in India had refused burial to the terrorists because the Indian Muslims said the actions of the jihadi terorrists were totally unIslamic and they did not deserve a Muslim burial.
Mr Margo also spoke about the need for vigilance in the Jewish community to prevent any future attacks and urged all to donate to the Jewish Security Capital Appeal to help our NSW Community face up to prevent terrorist attacks. All were urged to fill out the pledge cards provided.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is the roof body responsible for the Jewish Security Capital Appeal.
Next Israel’s Deputy Ambassador, His Excellency Eli Yerushalmi, spoke about the wonderful work of Chabad in the world and of the need to stand up to the threat of terror, especially the nuclear threat from Iran.
Then Rabbi Yanky Berger called upon Consul Y.V. Dayal for the Consul-General of India to light a memorial Candle for the Indian Victims, the Hon Kristina Keneally MLA, Minister for Planning, Minister for Redfern Waterloo and State member for Heffron and the Hon Peter Debnam, MLA, Shadow Minister for Energy and the local State Member for Vaucluse to light a memorial candle each for the two Australian who were killed. Councillor Andrew Petrie, Mayor of Woollahra and Ros Fischl, President of the Council of Synagogues lit a memorial candle each to represent the people of all nationalities who died in Mumbai. The lighting of memorial candles was completed by young representatives of the whole spectrum of Jewish youth groups: Bnei Akiva, Hineni, Betar, Habonim, Netzer and AUJS, lighting a candle each in memory of each of the Jewish victims who were murdered in the Chabad House.
Following the solemn lighting of memorial candles, Rabbi Motti Feldman intoned Kel Molei Rachamim, listing the Jewish names of all the Jewish victims, including kosher supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, Hy”d and Bentzion Kruman, Hy”d, who leave eleven orphans, as well as collectively remembering all those murdered in the attack. The English translation was read by Rabbi Yoram Ulman of the Chabad House in Bondi that is known for its outreach to the former Soviet Union Jewish community.
A moving Kaddish was said by Mr Mark Braham who tragically lost his tzedekas daughter, Rachel, and son-in-law, Zev Simons in a horrific car crash almost a year ago. The service was concluded by all joining in with Chazan Yehoshua Niasoff’s rendition of Oseh Shalom.
Yeshiva rabbinical students stood with boxes outside collecting the Mitzva pledges as the attendees filed out and there were also tables with outreach material in the shul foyer.
What stuck in our minds as we left was that the terrorists struck at Chabad simply because they were Jews and only because they were Jews, but we continue to do good, to be good and to spread goodness and kindness.