‘Moishi, you are the child of all of Israel now’
By Yair Ettinger
The funerals of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, and the procession that proceeded it went on for nearly seven hours. At the end, as darkness fell and the two gravediggers covered the graves with dirt, the thousands of people who filled the Mount of Olives began chanting an old Chabad niggun, or melody.
The story of the Holtzbergs, their orphaned son Moshe, the bravery of their nanny, the power of Chabad, questions of faith and a denunciation of global terror were all woven into the eulogies for Gabi and Rivky.
“For some days now the entire world, and certainly the Jewish world, has needed an answer to the one question of a 2-year-old boy, Moishi: ‘Mommy.’ We need an answer to why Moishi’s mother was murdered,” President Shimon Peres said at the funeral. “The world will not know rest, will not know how to be a world of believers, of decent people, until an answer is given to this piercing question of an orphaned child.”
About 20,000 people, including hundreds who flew in from around the world, attended the funeral, which was held in Kfar Chabad, in front of an exact replica of 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters. The entire senior leadership of the movement and its rabbis were there, as were dozens of emissaries (shlihim).
The picture at Kfar Chabad yesterday was a mirror image of the meetings that take place abroad between Chabad emissaries and Israelis, between ultra-Orthodox and non-observant Jews.
The private grief of the families, the grief of Chabad, turned into something akin to official grief through the participation of the president, the chief rabbis, five cabinet ministers, the head of the opposition, a number of Knesset members and the Indian ambassador to Israel. The funeral was covered by dozens of local and foreign media outlets, some of which broadcast it live.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the arm of Chabad-Lubavitch responsible for dispatching emissaries around the world, turned to the emissaries during his eulogy and said: “This is the time to go more deeply into your faith, this isn’t the time to think it’s the time to act.”
Addressing the Holtzberg’s son Moshe (who was not brought to the funeral), Kotlarsky said; “Moisheleh, you have become the only child of the community of Israel, of the 4,000 [Chabad] emissaries throughout the world. They will adopt you, you are our child, you will always be the rebbe’s shaliah [emissary].”
Before tearing a piece of his clothing, in accordance with Jewish tradition, Rivkah Holtzberg’s father, Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, mentioned that his daughter was six months’ pregnant when she died. He asked the crowd to repeat after him as he cried out “Ad Matei?” [“How long?”] three times, and when he called out “Shma Yisrael” [“Hear O Israel”].
Chabad people said the funeral was the largest gathering of Hasidim since the death of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, in 1994.
After Schneerson’s death the Lubavitcher movement split in two, between the mainstream and a messianic minority that does not recognize the rebbe’s death. Yesterday’s funeral brought the two parts together. In the crowd there were yellow flags with the word Moshiach, Messiah – the minority faction demonstrating its presence.
Chabad rabbis, including the rabbi of Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi, addressed the issue of unity in the movement. “There are not two Chabads,” Ashkenazi said. “There is one Kadosh Baruch Hu [The Holy One, Blessed Be He], one Rebbe, one Chabad.”
According to Chabad Internet sites, tens of thousands of people watched the live broadcasts of the funeral (on COLlive.com and COL.org.il).
Thousands of Haredim also packed Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood to pay their respects to Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, 38, a kosher-food supervisor who lived in Jerusalem but was a U.S. citizen. The father of eight, he was in Mumbai’s Chabad House at the time of the attack.
Three additional funerals were held in the towns of Bnei Brak and Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, and at the Yarkon Cemetery, north of the city, for three other victims of the attack: Norma Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz, 50, of Mexico, who had planned to immigrate to Israel this week via India, to join two of her children; Yocheved Orpaz, 60, of Givatayim, who had been traveling in India with a daughter and grandchildren; and Bentzion Chroman, 28, a Bobover Hasid with dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship. Like Teitelbaum, he had traveled to India for a short-term engagement as a kashruth supervisor.