By Davy James
In the wake of the devastating terror attacks last week in India’s largest city, Mumbai, local residents with ties to the country are reacting with shock and sadness.
Beginning Nov. 26, multiple gunmen launched a coordinated attack on several locations, including a crowded railway station, two five-star luxury hotels, a popular tourist restaurant and a Chabad Jewish center, leaving an estimated 171 people dead and at least 294 people injured, according to the Associated Press.
”My initial feelings were rage and sadness altogether,” said Surabhi Agarwal, of Kendall Park. “So many lives were lost for what? I don’t even know.”
Ms. Agarwal’s sister was staying at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, one of the hotels that were attacked. The hotel has three buildings in Mumbai and her sister was fortunate to not have been staying at the main building that was attacked.
”I didn’t know she wasn’t staying at the main building, which is where she usually stays,” Ms. Agarwal said. “I was very afraid, but relieved to find out she was at a different building. I kept calling her every two hours telling her not to sleep and to keep her bags and passport ready.”
Other local residents faced similar horrors with relatives who were dangerously close to losing their lives in the attacks.
”My cousin was having dinner on the second floor of the Taj Mahal and he was trapped for about four to five hours,” said Mac Shah, of Monmouth Junction. “Fortunately he got lucky and was able to survive. My heart goes out to all the victims of this horrific incident.”
Many residents were left to making desperate phone calls to relatives and loved ones in the area.
”Initially I was very scared and tried to get in touch with the family and friends I have in Mumbai to make sure they were OK,” said Arif Patel, of Monmouth Junction. “My parents are visiting there right now, so I want to make sure they get back safely.”
During the siege at the Mumbai Chabad House, also known as the Nariman House, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were killed. The Holtzberg’s 2-year-old son, Moshe, escaped from the compound with his nanny when the attack on the Chabad House began.
”I knew (Rabbi Holtzberg) as a friend and as a Chabad Rabbi and this tragedy hit home,” said Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of Chabad of Monroe. “They were wonderful people totally committed to the cause of helping others.”
Rabbi Zaklikovsky said the Holtzbergs worked tirelessly to build the Chabad House as a center of goodness in Mumbai. The Chabad held a Shabbat candle lighting service for the Holtzbergs Monday.
”He was a brilliant scholar whose life’s dream was to reach out to his brethren with love and he did so successfully,” he said. “In a period of five years the house became a center of bustling activity where hundreds of people were served meals or given a place to stay, where people could go for a helping hand and everyone was welcome.”
Rabbi Zaklikovsky said that as a result of the tragedy, all people should work together to move on.
”There’s no question we need to gather our strength and not allow the terrorists to diminish our focus and courage,” he said. “This has spurred tremendous interest in the search for goodness. We need to channel those efforts into positive actions from the community.”
On Monday, a memorial service was held for the victims at the Chabad Jewish Center of South Brunswick.
”We lit candles and each person said a prayer for memorial and for the welfare of the surviving child,” said Rabbi Levi Azimov. “When I first heard about this I was very shocked and broken that such evil could exist.”
Rabbi Azimov said the response to these attacks should be acts of good will and kindness in order to facilitate the healing process.
”In darkness we fight with light,” he said. “Only with increasing light can we push away the darkness and overcome these terrible attacks. On our Web site we try to encourage everyone to act in goodness and kindness. Do a good deed in (the Holtzbergs) memory and bring light into a dark world.”
Ms. Agarwal said education is key to stamping out the extremism that has existed in India.
”Muslims in India need to better educate their people and politicians have to bring them into the mainstream,” Ms. Agarwal said. “The mullahs feel that their power will go away if their people are educated. We have to bring everyone into the mainstream of society so the kids go to regular schools to learn science and math instead of only religious books.”
Many local residents agreed that much time and care should be taken when bringing those responsible for the attacks to justice.
”Not all of the facts and details are available yet but they will emerge in the days, weeks and months ahead,” Mr. Patel said. “There can’t be a rush to judgment because if we start blaming others then that’s what the terrorists want. This can lead to other incidents around the world. Regardless of faith we need to work together to make this extremism irrelevant in all societies.”
A fund has been established to benefit the rebuilding of the Chabad House in Mumbai and for the Holtzbergs’ son. Those wishing to donate should visit www.chabadsouthbrunswick.com or www.chabadmonroe.org.