By MEGAN POINSKI
Deep sadness, powerful love and enduring hope filled the large upstairs room where the territory’s Jewish, Indian and local communities joined together to dedicate the Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg Chabad Jewish Welcome Center on Monday afternoon.
Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were the rabbi and wife team in charge of the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Mumbai. Almost two weeks ago, terrorists stormed several landmarks in India’s financial capital, including iconic hotels, restaurants, a train station, a hospital and the Holtzbergs’ Chabad center. The Holtzbergs and four visitors to the center were among more than 170 people killed during the siege.
Rabbi Asher Federman, who runs the St. Thomas Chabad house with his wife, Henya, was good friends with the Holtzbergs. Their loss, he said, made he and his wife feel like they had lost a brother and sister.
“It was an attack on every one of us,” Federman said. “It was an attack on everyone who values religious freedom.”
Chabad-Lubavitch is an international Jewish outreach organization. It exists to reach out to Jewish people wherever they are and provide for their needs. It serves the dual purpose of becoming a vital part of the fabric of the community where it is located. Chabad centers are located in most states and in 73 countries worldwide.
Federman said that there is no greater way to honor the Holtzbergs than to continue their lives’ work – loving, accepting and teaching everyone. Monday was the last day of shiva – the traditional Jewish seven-day mourning period after a funeral. Turning the anger at the senseless murders in the terrorist attacks into love for the community, the Federmans worked hard to transform a space in downtown Charlotte Amalie into a Jewish welcome center. The center, located up a set of stairs at the back of the Purple Papaya shop on Main Street, will be a welcoming place for Jewish visitors to get a kosher meal, study the scriptures, or just take a load off. St. Thomas receives about 100,000 Jewish visitors annually, Federman said.
Federman has said that he has long considered opening a welcome center in tourist-heavy downtown, but the Holtzbergs’ death made him realize that the time to do it is now. At Monday’s ceremony, Federman thanked Amos Cohen for helping to make the space possible.
Throughout the ceremony, several candles flickered in memory of the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. A banner hanging over the front of the room issued the challenge to defy the darkness with light. Several speakers, including St. Thomas Synagogue Rabbi Shimon Moch and Indian Association Acting President Pash Dashwani, commented on the appropriateness of the statement.
Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty went to the ceremony on behalf of Gov. John deJongh Jr. She offered condolences and scripture readings, as well as hope.
“The benevolence of Rabbi Holtzberg will live on through the many he touched and the joy he offered to so many lives,” said Beverly Nicholson-Doty. “May this center serve as a symbol of unity that you can share with your brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith.”
Hope is the one thing that continues strongest, Federman said. Six couples already have applied to run the Mumbai Chabad-Lubavitch house, continuing the Holtzbergs’ mission, he said.
Federman encouraged the people at the dedication to do good works to preserve the Holtzbergs’ legacy.
“The power of love is stronger, more durable, and more powerful than any power of hate,” he said.