Dec 19, 2008 — A Yeshiva University memorial in honor of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were killed in the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, became a charge for students to incorporate some of the Holzbergs’ compassion, commitment to Judaism and respect for other people into their lives.
A somber mood pervaded Weissberg Commons, filled to capacity with 200 students on Dec. 17. Adira Lautman, president of the Torah Activities Council, opened the memorial by inviting seven people to light candles—six to commemorate those killed in the Chabad House, and one for the other victims of terror that day.
Each person had some kind of connection to Mumbai, Chabad or the Holtzbergs: Sophie Marmor, a Stern College student, and Aziza Kahn, a Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology student, both of whom traveled to Mumbai in the summer as part of a course on Global Health; Rabbi Shlomo Sternberg, a chavruta [study partner] of Rabbi Holtzberg; Rabbi J.J. Schachter, who spoke at the event about the massacre’s meaning for Jews; the presidents of the Chabad Society on the Beren and Wilf campuses; and Yoffi Jacob, a YU High School for Boys student from Mumbai.
“I will never forget the Shabbat I spent at the Holtzbergs,” said Marmor. “To me, their behavior exemplified chessed [kindness] and human decency.”
She spoke about how touched she was by the Holtzbergs’ warmth towards one of their guests at Shabbat, an Israeli man whose release from an Indian jail Rabbi Holzberg had helped to negotiate. The next day at lunch, Marmor was seated next to him and, Marmor said, her natural inclination was to make an excuse to change seats. But this time she didn’t want to.
“I wanted to be like the Holzbergs,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the tragedy and what I can learn from it.” She urged audience members to honor the memory of the Holtzbergs by increasing the level of tolerance in their own lives.”
Rabbi Sternberg, who learned together with Rabbi Holtzberg at a yeshiva in Crown Heights, said he thought about what his friend would have wanted him to say. “I think this is what he would say. ‘I wish that everything wouldn’t have had to happen. I wish I could be back in Mumbai, where no one would know about me. I wish I could reach out to thousands of neshamas [souls] but that was all taken from me. You are standing in a room with hundreds of young, talented students. They must continue where I left off.”
“The Holtzbergs helped people change their lives, and didn’t ask for anything in return, chessed for the sake of chessed,” Rabbi Sternberg said.
Rabbi J.J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future, said that Jews’ response to the killings should be “what we can learn from such a tragedy.”
Referring to the upcoming Hanukkah holiday, he said, “We must light a candle in the midst of darkness. We must do something.”
“We must remember those who perished and be inspired by their memory and in the zechut [merit] of our activities their their neshama will rest,” Rabbi Schacter said.
The ceremony ended with Rabbi Yona Reiss, Max and Marion Grill Dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, who recited a “kol maleh rachimim,” prayer to memorialize the victims of terror in Mumbai.