By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Yehudit and Shimon Rosenberg arrived in Mumbai on Friday morning on a special flight arranged by the ZAKA organization several hours after learning that the terrorists rampaging through Mumbai had also struck Chabad House. Their daughter, Rivka, established the center in the city along with her husband, Gavriel Holtzberg, a Chabad emissary, five years ago.
On arrival, they were reunited with their grandson, Moshe, who was delivered safely from the attack in the arms of his caretaker, Sandra Samuel. After arriving, the couple was housed in the apartment of a staff member of the Israeli consulate in the city, and did not leave the residence all Friday and Saturday.
A half-hour drive away, the battle at Chabad House continued, but they did not ask for details about it. Chabad emissaries from New Delhi and Goa also arrived at the apartment, some of them with family members. Shimon Rosenberg, a neighborhood rabbi and Chabad emissary in Afula, smiled and looked to the sky every time the names of his daughter and son-in-law were mentioned. It was the elder Rosenbergs’ second visit to Mumbai, having visited their daughter and her husband three years ago.
Five years ago, Gavriel and Rivka arrived in the city to establish the first Chabad House in India. Shimon preferred to speak about that visit, of the experience of setting up the house and of personal memories of arriving in Afula as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissary.
Speaking candidly, Shimon admitted he knew there was virtually no chance his daughter and son-in-law were still alive, but they welcomed the coming of Shabbat with joy, with a meal for all those present at the house.
His grandson Moshe ran around the apartment in colorful pajamas, while Sandra chased him and played with the other emissaries’ children. Only when a number of other people arrived at the residence was Moshe taken into one of the bedrooms. “He still gets afraid when he sees a lot of strangers,” explained family members.
Throughout the night, news trickled in to the apartment that the siege on Chabad House had come to a close, and that all the hostages had died. Still, the parents were not notified, as it was still Shabbat.
In the morning, one of the consulate staff finally broke and told the parents the bitter news. “But you can’t cry,” the staff member told them. “We all admired Gabi and Rivki, and you have to be proud of them.”
Throughout the day, Israeli and Jewish friends streamed into the apartment, telling stories about the young couple from the past five years – how, for example, Gavriel would buy 200 chickens every week and slaughter them himself in the house’s yard to distribute among the area’s Jewish community.
He would also sometimes fly to other Chabad Houses in India and Thailand to slaughter chickens according to the regulations of kashrut. The Holtzbergs also provided kosher food packages to Israelis passing through Mumbai, and took in Israelis who ended up in the city with just the clothes on their backs. At Chabad House they would receive food and a place to sleep with no expectation of payment.
The couple was an integral part of the Israeli community in the city, and often appeared at parties thrown by members of the community, even if the food was not kosher.
As Shabbat came to a close, Consul General Orna Sagiv arrived at the apartment and gave the family the official news of the couple’s deaths. Afterwards, those present convened in the living room for Saturday evening prayer.
Shimon functioned as cantor, and only once, while reciting the Kaddish for the deceased, did his voice waiver slightly. While silently reciting the Shema, he read one line aloud: “to prolong your days and the days of your children on the land.”
Dov Goldberg, a Chabad emissary to Goa, has already been appointed Holtzberg’s replacement in Mumbai, and said he would come to his new post as early as this week.