Chabad House: Still Pocked with Bullet Marks, Still Remembering its Rabbi

"You are never going to stop anybody who steps inside the Chabad House" - those were the oft-repeated words of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, head of the Mumbai headquarters of the Chabad House. And that was the instruction followed on Nov 26, 2008 when terrorists stormed in, brutally killing the rabbi, his pregnant wife Rivka and four others.

The terrorists entered Chabad House, Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews, situated inside the better-known Nariman House, near the southern tip of the city, on the night of Nov 26 and laid a bloody siege right till the afternoon of Nov 28. It was one of the last places to be freed of the terrorists.

The 30-year-old rabbi and his wife's bullet ridden bodies were found along with four others. But his two-year-old son Moshe miraculously survived, thanks to his nanny Sandra Samuel, and is now in Israel.   

A year later, the Chabad House is a regular tourist spot with visitors making their way past crowded by-lanes. The shops and houses are back in action, the rattle of gunfire faded into memory.

Every square inch of Chabad House is riddled with bullets. Construction work is underway but the reminders of the ghastly attack stand out.

Small groups of people crowd its entrance, and share stories. Like about the late rabbi's benevolence.

Just a day before the attack, the doors of the Chabad House were thrown open to the very men who attacked it, say some.

Says Daaniel David. who lives nearby: "People were always welcome here, at all times of the day or night. A senior rabbi told me how a group of Jewish youth from the city had come there just before the 26/11 attacks. When they entered the place, the Rabbi accorded them a warm welcome, he invited them to join the evening prayers. But the youngsters seemed more interested in exploring the property, and spent much of the prayer time walking around."

Recollecting the attack, Daaniel, 22, who is a member of the Chabad House, sheds a tear.

"I remember clearly, the day I went to see the revered rabbi's bullet-ridden body. Bullets had pierced virtually every inch of his frail body; later we learnt that he succumbed to 42 gunshots. Even his wife, Rivka who was five-months pregnant, was not spared. There were bullets fired into the most sacred parts of a woman. It was terrible. The Rabbi and his family did nothing wrong to deserve this brutality..."

Visitors walk into the bullet-sprayed building with a narrow staircase leading to the first floor, where Jewish tourists and locals were served food. The second floor holds a small-sized library, a prayer hall, a cyber cafe and remnants of what used to be the Rabbi's cabin.

The third and fourth floor, were guest rooms. Within its walls, two guests Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz and Ycheved Orpaz were also killed.

The fifth floor of the Chabad House, housed the rabbi, Rivka and their son Moshe. Among the flurry of bullet marks, Moshe's room still lies painted in yellow and blue with a duck on the door. The terrace holds a breathtaking view of the sea and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, which also bore the brunt of the terror attack.

Founded over 100 years ago, the Chabad House made its beginning in Mumbai at 44, Shelleys Estate, opposite the Radio Club, Colaba in 2004. By 2006, the Chabad House had shifted into Nariman House, occupying the entire building.
It has now shifted to another location nearby, informs Elijah, a young Jewish student.

But things are not the same for people like Daaniel.

"The Chabad House was a place for discussion and debate; learning and prayer. During Sabbath, we would spend many hours there - dancing, singing, praying and drinking wine. Our meals there were the best part. It was the only place in the city where we could get Kosher meat," he remembers.

Kosher meat is specialized food that conforms to the norms laid down by the Jewish religion. The slaughter of Kosher meat can only be performed by a devout Jew; and the meat is only considered Kosher if there are no dents or irregularities, and salt has been rubbed over the flesh, ensuring there is no blood.

"As Jews we could not eat out at a restaurant, the Chabad House was a lovely place to dine as well. Plus, the Chabad House used to supply Kosher meat to the Taj Hotel. This is why, on the night of the attacks, there was 60 kg Kosher meat in the refrigerator," explains Daaniel.

"But now, we have nowhere to go."

For the Jews who continue to live in the city of Mumbai, things aren't the same. Some of them continue to live in fear, while others are perturbed about missing their regular prayer schedule.

"The future is bleak for us Jews in Mumbai. Since the 26/11 attacks, the Israeli government has issued two warnings to us against upcoming attacks on Jews in the city," says Daaniel.

A senior official from the Chabad House told IANS: "As Jews, we're here to stay. At 18, Moshe too, will return to the city to head the Chabad Mumbai Chapter."


More by :  Gayatri Makhijani

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