RIP Rabbi Holtzberg!

30 Nov

I know this is a blog about building. Those of you who have been following my blog, know all about my family’s quest to build a home, out of shipping containers and aircraft hangar parts. We seek to renew ourselves (in part), by restoring our home.

This has been a burden of faith, as well as “the burden of building.” When you look inside and measure yourself, you do it against a yardstick created by the ideals and virtues you hold within you. And  I still find myself asking; “Why me? Why US?” almost daily, as we try to plot a course that will take us out of the treacherous waters we now inhabit.

However, I’m also reminded that we’re just like everyone else, and everybody faces hardships in their lives. It’s how you deal with hardship, that defines you.

But today,  I feel as if my heart has been torn down, like an old forgotten building. As I read the news today, I was reminded, once again, of how dangerous and desperate the world has become.

If you’ve been following the terrorist acts in India (Mumbai) you know that terrorists took over several locations, intent on killing westerners, and apparently anyone else they could kill. 2 man death squads literally roamed the city for three days, killing indiscriminately.

Indian officials now say that 119 people have died and 288 were injured in a chain of shootings and explosions that began when gunmen stormed a train station Wednesday night. Within two hours, luxury hotels, hospitals, a tourist restaurant and the Chabad House also were under attack.

Now, the Chabad House wasn’t an activist group, or even a threat to anyone or anything. It was simply a place where Jews could congregate, and learn to become better Jews. It was a place to have a kosher meal, study the Torah, and pray. It was a place where Jews were warmly welcomed, be they resident or traveler, without prejudice. Chabad House wasn’t an “Israeli sanctioned” place, or possessing any associations that would aid it in time of need. Chabad House isn’t an embassy, and it wasn’t protected. It was simply a place where Jews are an easy target.

As Indian soldiers sought to rescue hostages at locations throughout the city, the hostages at Chabad House found no rescue, only their deaths at the hands of terrorists bent on hate.

gabi-holtzbergAmong those killed were  29-year-old Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, and his Israeli wife Rivka, 28, who jointly ran the center.

Two Israeli kosher ritual inspectors and a visiting Israeli woman who happened to be inside when Islamist militants seized the building Wednesday night, were also murdered.

Rabbi Holtzberg’s 2-year-old son, Moshe, escaped the center Thursday, with the building’s cook, Sandra Samuel. The couple has a second son who wasn’t at the center at the time and he is also safe.

The news of these senseless murders tears at my heart, as much as a “keriyah” (tearing of one’s clothing in mourning). I am saddened that I do not live in a place where there are 10 men who could form a “minyan,” a formal prayer group, to pray for the deceased.


Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray for the well-being of their friends Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who are being held hostage by suspected gunmen in Mumbai, India, at the Jewish center in Mumbai, following a series of attacks in the city that killed at least 101 people. The Holzbergs’ 2-year-old son Moishe was released together with another center worker twelve hours after gunmen stormed the building. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort said it best:

“Rabbi and Mrs. Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg were Shluchim – emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – in Mumbai, India. What is the job of a Shliach? A Shliach’s job is to try and help people – all people – and to help them in all different ways. Some folks need spiritual guidance while others need a hot meal. Some want to educate themselves or their children while others need a Rabbi to help bury a parent. Many people don’t realize that although Shluchim are primarily focusing on Jews they also make themselves available to non-Jews who seek their help. Shluchim embody goodness and kindness of the highest order. Shluchim are givers.”

People who know me, ask me why I spent so many years on foreign soil, living amidst the violence of men.  I suspect that it’s (in part) because of events like these, to avenge good people murdered by hate filled despots who seek to be measured by their crimes, crimes perpetrated by cowardly, insignificant pieces of refuse in human form, who act in violence, because they cannot act intellectually, or ethically. I would note that any “acts of retribution” I committed were not “noble.” I was simply young, immortal, foolish, and angry. It is something I struggled with for years, and still… I feel it’s cold, sharp teeth biting into my neck.

A friend who is a minister once told me that some men become G-d’s swords. It is my hope that such men find those who do these terrible things, and dispatch them, to meet “their” makers.

And because of my strong feelings about this, I am constantly reminded that I have failed to evolve (and I have failed my Rabbis and teachers, whose lessons were lovingly administered to me) because my rage at these animals clouds my faith, and makes me gnash my teeth and long for retribution. All those years ago, I had become a part of the madness, and it has overtaken me, I fear. I wish “the wish of those innocents oppressed,” to ferret out and then destroy my people’s oppressors. I pray G-d forgives me.

I ask you, the reader, to forgive me. I acknowledge that I am not setting a good example of overcoming hardship, by harboring ill will towards man, any man.  I believe that G-d has a plan and we are all a part of it, but it is hard to control the anger that accompanies these senseless acts, and I sometimes feel like the world has “lost it’s mind.”

I’m reminded that these vile creatures were not “true students” of Islam. Muslims don’t believe in violence, or killing to meet one’s aims. These militants were, and are, just killers, intent on hate and destruction.

As we grow in Judaism, we are taught that death is not a tragedy, even when it occurs early in life or through unfortunate circumstances. Death is simply a natural process. Our deaths, like our lives, have meaning and are all part of G-d’s plan. In addition, we have a firm belief in an afterlife, a world to come, where those who have lived a worthy life will be rewarded.

I am positive that there is a warm place in G-d’s heart, for Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife. They helped make the world a better place. We’ll miss them.

And, I’ll pray for all those injured and killed in Mumbai. To them, I can say only this; “Our hearts are with your families, as we all live with this horror.”

And I ask you to pray for the sons of Rabbi Holtzberg. They have a very hard time ahead of them. I would give anything to take on the suffering that those dear little boys will incur.

“May the Lord comfort you with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Stay tuned…

The Renaissance Ronin