8 February 2009 - 14 Shevat 5769 - י"ד שבט ה' אלפים תשס"ט

By Erica Lyons
Managing Editor

For two days the world watched as the Mumbai Chabad House, in Nariman, remained under siege. In the week following, communities and friends grieved together over the loss. The aftermath has just begun, as communities begin to question what is the best response to this tragedy? And how safe are we?


During the entire siege there was a massive push within the communities across Asia for Tehillim. In places like Hong Kong, this crisis brought people together irrespective of the differences that ordinarily divide them. There was a sense among Jews across the region of an even deeper connection to the Jews in Mumbai, even for those without a personal connection to the victims, and there was a greater understanding of the commitment and sacrifi ce that the Holtzbergs made by living in Mumbai.

There is an increased awareness of the vulnerability of regional Chabad Houses, synagogues and schools. While local security offi cials have declined to comment on the relative security of their own communities, there has been a clear immediate increase in the presence of security measures on a regional basis. Behind the scenes Jewish centres are beginning to seriously take stock of their own possible security breaches.

In the public arena, Chabad in the Far East has embarked on a strong campaign to strengthen their communities spiritually and to try to find a way to appropriately honour the memory of the victims of terror. Memorial ceremonies were organised throughout the region. These were not nameless victims in a far off place. They were friends, colleagues, mentors.

In an interview with Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, director of Lubavitch of the Far East (LIFE), he indicated that there are three basic components to his response and the response of the other shluchim across Asia to the tragedy. First, he said, “We have an obligation as Jews to fight terrorism with torches of light.” He explained that the Torah states that every positive act inspires a bit of light and he stressed how crucial this is now, perhaps more than ever, stating that, “the darkness in the world has never been so stark.”

Secondly, Rabbi Avtzon stated that we have an obligation as human beings to educate and enlighten others. He called “terror by far the greatest threat to civilized life,” and referenced the recent international campaign towards pressuring the UN to call for a special session on terror.

Thirdly, he acknowledged the immediate and real need to have concrete measures in place that will better protect Chabad Houses and other communal centres. He explained that Chabad of Hong Kong will now have a manned security presence in contrast to their previous almost open door policy.

When asked what impact this will have on the overall accessibility of Chabad as a ‘home away from home in Asia’, he said that people will have to recognise the need for security and overall he feels that it is just an adjustment people will need to make.

Overall, he said LIFE’s coordinated campaign is one that focuses on honouring the victims by increasing the positive light we bring to the world though our own acts of unmitigated kindness. This he says was the exact message that the Holtzbergs worked to spread.

According to Rabbi Avtzon, plans are underway to possibly rebuild Nariman House on the same site. While other news sources indicate that a shliach has already been slated to rebuild the Mumbai community, Rabbi Avtzon indicated that this was a transitional role and permanent shluchim has not been named. He did state that family of Rivka Holtzberg has already come forward to express a commitment to be part of the effort to help rebuild the centre.

(Issue Dec 08/Jan 09)

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