By Jim Lynch / The Detroit News
OAK PARK — While many television sets around Metro Detroit were tuned in to Thanksgiving Day parades and Lions football Thursday, supporters of the Lubavitch Cheder in Oak Park were watching news of the Mumbai terrorist attacks unfold thousands of miles around the globe.
The cheder has provided a Hassidic Jewish education for area children from elementary school age through high school for 50 years. The center is linked to Nariman House, a sister operation that opened two years ago in Mumbai, India.
The Nariman House was infiltrated by gunmen on Wednesday during the earliest stages of a coordinated terrorist attack that left dozens dead. As of Thursday evening, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife were still being held inside the home, according to some news reports. Their 18-month-old child is believed to have escaped.
“It’s just been a day of wondering what’s going to happen next,” said Levi Stein, a staff member at the Lubavitch Cheder. “We’re doing our best with prayers … just hoping for the best.”
Stein’s brother, Rabbi Mendel Stein, serves as the school’s development director.
“It’s impossible to say exactly why the (Nariman) House was targeted,” he said. “It’s very possible that it was chosen on purpose. The home is often visited by Israelis who are passing through.”
At the school in Oak Park Thursday, faculty members turned the tragedy of the events in Mumbai and the cheder’s connection to them into a learning opportunity for students. Many of the school’s elementary students attended religious studies on Thanksgiving and at the end of the day, they participated in a special prayer session.
Rabbi Mendel Stein explained the three-part ceremony.
“Our reaction to what’s going on in Mumbai is ‘What can we do?’ ” he said. “Our first reaction is to pray. Physically, there is nothing we can do, but we can pray.”
Mendel Stein’s wife, Devorah began the call-and-response prayer by asking the 40 children sitting cross-legged on the floor, “When something is wrong, what can we do?”
The second part of the program involved studying from a religious book, in this case the Chumash Bible. And finally, the children were given nickels to place into charity collection cans — an act of kindness to benefit someone else.
On Thursday morning, two women and a child were led out of the building by police, said one witness. The child was identified as Moshe Holtzberg, the rabbi’s son. He was unharmed, but his clothes were soaked in blood.
Sandra Samuel, 44, a cook who pulled the boy out of the building, said she saw Rabbi Holtzberg, his wife Rivka and two other unidentified guests lying on the floor, apparently “unconscious.”
Rabbi Zalman Zweibel of Ann Arbor, Mich., helps Yoseph Man find his place while reciting psalms. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Mushkie Katz, 13, of Chicago, Ill., prays with her classmates. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Students at the Lubavitch Cheder School in Oak Park, Mich., recite psalms and give tzedaka for the branch of the school in Mumbai (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News