God’s Work

Photo: Courtesy of Chabad.org

Little Moshe has passed through the time of danger. He is healthy and clever, and if he’s sometimes clingy, that’s fine with Rivki. Staying busy with him, with all her work, keeps difficult thoughts at bay. Such as: Why are she and Gabi here, amid the stench and chaos and otherness of Mumbai? They could have been in Brooklyn or Israel instead, with family and comforts nearby to ease their sadness.

But why think about what can’t be helped? They are here because that’s what the Rebbe inspired them to do. And look at the blessings their sacrifice has brought them, just as he said it would: Moshe, their miracle, and now another child on the way. God willing, the family will grow and bring honor to their mission.

Sixth of eleven, the middlest of middle children, Rivka Rosenberg, born in 1980, grows up in Afula, Israel, in a Lubavitcher home: a smiler, a laugher, knowing how to fit in yet managing to be heard. Everyone calls her Rivki. “Not meek,” a friend says. “Not recessive. Full of life. Always looking to connect. That’s the secret.” The friend pauses. “And that’s the problem.”

The peninsula of Mumbai juts into the Arabian Sea, a beckoning finger. It is the Western face of India: a short flight from any trouble spot you can name, yet not particularly troubled itself, except by extremes of poverty and wealth. It is where others, including filmmakers, come to make a point. They find Bollywood stars and goats in the street, luxury retail and beggars like flies, and, if they are Jewish, a Chabad House for kosher food and a sense of identity in a city where it is easy to get lost. Located almost invisibly in the last crook of the last joint of the beckoning finger, on a narrow, congested alley in a neighborhood called Colaba, the house waits for those who know about it and can find their way from their hostel or five-star hotel near the Gateway of India monument, welcoming all from the sea.

Gavriel Noach Holtzberg shows up mid-fall at Oholei Torah, a Lubavitcher yeshiva in Crown Heights. He is 9, not as well off as some of the boys, already a scholar in Yiddish and Hebrew but—having just moved from Israel with his parents and six siblings—almost completely lacking in English. Nevertheless, within a year, he has emerged at the top of his class, in not just scholarship but influence. If he can’t afford the right sneakers, plays no sports, he still commands respect from the boys; in the schoolyard they speak Yiddish with him, even after he learns to speak English with them.

His family knows from the start that something is different about Gabi. At 3, he is already punctilious in his observance of Jewish law, washing his hands the second he gets up, making sure everyone says the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema. His brothers and sisters are astounded by this, but his father, Nachman, a rabbi and ritual slaughterer, or shochet, is not. Rabbi Holtzberg’s family lived for eight generations in Safed, Israel, a center of mystical Judaism as far back as the sixteenth century. His own father “davened like he eats”—prayed naturally, as a form of sustenance. Gabi, too, has the quality of relentless piety. At 17, he walks to Teaneck, New Jersey, and back, six hours, to share a Torah thought at a synagogue there. His feet are covered with blisters.

Even earlier, he has a mission. “He told me, at maybe 10 or 11, ‘I want to sharpen the knives,’ ” says Nachman. A shochet’s knives are prized tools, requiring perfect care to prevent animals from feeling pain. “I said he was too young: He didn’t know how. He said, ‘I don’t care,’ and took a knife and sharpened it. He did a good job. But good wasn’t enough for him. It had to be ‘beautiful good.’ ”

Rebbe is the Yiddish for rabbi—in the Orthodox tradition, a learned male who receives a smicha, or certification, upon finishing his religious studies, regardless of whether he goes on to lead a congregation or live a relatively ordinary life. There are thousands of rabbis, many without portfolio. Those affiliated with Lubavitcher Judaism—so named because from 1813 until 1940 the movement was centered in the Russian town of Lubavitch—are easily met in Crown Heights, often wearing black hats and bushy beards, with their wives in wigs and their boys sporting side-locks like unwound ribbons.

But the Rebbe (or “the Grand Rebbe” or “the Lubavitcher Rebbe”) has in recent history meant only one man: Menachem Schneerson. Descended from the founders of Hasidism in the 1600s, he led the Lubavitchers from 1950 until his death, in 1994. During his tenure, he turned the movement, never a monkish sect, further outward, emphasizing practical acts of spirituality and engagement with the world, as befits a man who studied at the Sorbonne and, upon escaping from Europe, became an electrical engineer in the U.S. Navy.

Photo: Zishaan Akbar Latif/Polaris

In particular, Schneerson expanded the Lubavitcher concept of Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for the words wisdom, understanding, and knowledge) to include outreach to all Jews anywhere. The network of Mitzvah Mobiles, roving rabbis, Chabad Houses, and married emissaries called shluchim that he fostered has, since his death, grown even bigger, so that Chabad-Lubavitch, as it is sometimes called, is now the fastest-growing—and most visible—Jewish movement in the world.

The chance to meet Schneerson as a prize for memorizing lengthy rabbinical tracts leaves some boys frozen in terror. Most shuffle quickly by the awesome personage, receiving a dollar from a stack of bills to give to charity, barely lifting their faces. But Gabi stops the line dead to ask a question, and even when the Rebbe answers (“You should have a blessing in everything you need”), he keeps talking. Is the Rebbe amused, surprised beneath his whiskers? In any case, Gabi gets what he came for: a blessing on his family.

The Rebbe speaks in Crown Heights: “Don’t convince yourself that you can live off the fat of the land and reside in these few blocks. Here you have radio and television, fresh milk every day, you can shower twice a day; there is no shortage of kosher milk and kosher bread, and you can serve God here and remain here. Listen! There is a ‘desolate land,’ which is thus far undeveloped spiritually. There are Jews there who don’t even know that they lack anything. You had the unearned privilege to be brought up with Torah and mitzvahs: ‘How lucky we are, how good is our lot.’ Be there for a day, a week, a month, a year, ten years. You won’t have nice clothes and a comfortable home? The Jews in the places you are going also manage without them. Why should you be better? Perhaps they’re better than you. If you have not used your treasures for this, it must bother you. And if you are not pained, then you are lacking in your love of God.”

Rivki Rosenberg’s yeshiva life, like that of most girls, is less about standing out as a scholar or analyzing the brilliant debates of the sages than about candles and purity and making a Jewish home. She is naturally inclined to do good: She helps girls who fall behind in their studies. But she is looking for a challenge. Every summer she can she travels, always within the context of Jewish works. When she attends a wedding—and there are many weddings—she loves to dance, as if to shake off the desire for something she can’t name. At one of these weddings, in 2001, when a cousin of hers marries one of the sons of Nachman Holtzberg, Nachman has a thought. “I see this girl, a very special girl. Maybe now Gabi”—who is in Israel to complete his rabbinical training—“will take the cousin?”

They are each other’s first date. Gabi is not as handsome as Rivki is pretty, but Chabad valorizes the nerd. The boy who in secular society would be the outcast—the most studious, least athletic, shyest around girls—is here the star. It’s he who is asked to go furthest into the world to represent Jewish values. Gabi immediately explains to Rivki the crazy kind of life he is seeking as an emissary. He says, “I want to tell you I’m a special meshuggener. What I need to do, I will do. Are you ready to do?” And she says, “I’m the same way,” as if relieved.

They marry in 2002. She is 22, he 23. In wedding pictures she is ethereal, wisplike, shining; with his sketchy fluff of reddish beard and pink cheeks, he looks boyish, surprised by his good fortune. For the first time, she dons the sheitel—the wig Hasidic women wear in public as a sign of modesty. Friends will soon notice that she always adorns it with a clip of some kind and that she is always fiddling with the clip.

To be an emissary, a man must first have his smicha and his wife. Though he must also be spiritual, that isn’t enough. “You need a certain resourcefulness,” says Yosef Kantor, head of a Chabad House in Bangkok and regional director for the area. “Your head not up in the heavens, but able to function on Earth.”

Gabi is one of the best he’s seen: a brilliant scholar and also, like his father, a shochet and (not unrelatedly) a mohel. But where to place him? Chabad outposts in Boise and Bondi Beach and the suburbs of Paris are not what Gabi is looking for. It is, in a way, a shittach, a matchmaking job. “There’s a certain element of providence,” Kantor says. “You think you can know everything about a prospective partner and hope you’ll find out pleasant things, but the opposite sometimes happens.” Nevertheless, the cleaving of shluchim to their posts, like spouses to a marriage, is taken seriously; it’s not like opening a foreign bank branch. No couple is forced to accept a posting, but once they do, they are expected to hold it for life.

The Chabad House on Hormusji Street.Photo: Chaim D. Meghnagi/Courtesy of Chabad.org

Lubavitchers do not proselytize, certainly not to Gentiles; they model a form of Jewish spirituality—through scholarship, prayer, and good deeds—that they hope will challenge other Jews to do the same. But in order to reach Jews, they must first find Jews to reach. The Chabad leadership continually studies patterns of Jewish settlement and travel for places to expand. As a result, the movement now has a presence in 72 countries, with more than 4,000 couples or families serving as shluchim worldwide.

But until recently Chabad had sent only the occasional roving rabbi to India, where about 5,000 Jews remained, mostly around Mumbai, after waves of settlement going back 2,000 years. Faith was burning out, with leaderless synagogues forced to pay poor Jews in order to corral the required minyan. Addressing these local needs was enough of a reason to consider sending shluchim. But Chabad also had its eyes on foreign Jews, who, since the Indian financial “miracle” of the nineties, were visiting in greater numbers. Some were businessmen. Some were Israelis freshly liberated from army service, on their way to nonmilitary pleasures in Goa. Others were young Americans on the first leg of spiritual journeys, often pursued by worried parents.

Rabbi Kantor and his superiors decide they have found the right couple to serve such people. They know it will be a difficult job—which, in a way, for Gabi if not for Rivki, makes it even more attractive.

Still, Frieda Holtzberg is worried. Her family escaped the Nazis in Hungary—she named Gabi for a neighbor’s child killed in the Holocaust—so she has good cause to doubt the world’s hospitality. She tells her husband to change their son’s mind. It’s the Third World: Think how uncomfortable it will be for them. Think of the children, so far away. For by now Rivki has given birth to a son, Menachem Mendel, named after the Rebbe.

But Nachman doesn’t want to intervene. “I loved the idea he could be the big guy in India,” he says. Anyway, Gabi hasn’t asked their permission.

Moshe is their “miracle” child, their angel. When someone says that he and Rivki seem like best friends, Rivki says yes, my only friend.

Just before Hanukkah 2003, Gabi and Rivki arrive in Mumbai with little in tow but his knives and her wigs and Menachem Mendel, not yet 1. They set up shop in a rented room at the three-star Shelley’s Hotel on the water in the main tourist area: not an ideal situation, with no kitchen, little space, and a highly disagreeable owner. Still, they get to work, offering Torah study, officiating at bar mitzvahs and weddings, serving meals, and, because there is no kosher meat to be had—and no beef, of course; it’s India—slaughtering hundreds of chickens a week.

Life isn’t easy, and visitors, whether they come for dinner or a three-night stay, are not the same as friends. But together the Holtzbergs form a defense against the world, even as they throw themselves into it. They are each other’s lifeboats. “There is no Gabi without Rivki and no Rivki without Gabi” is how her mother puts it—and even though they behave modestly in public, as Orthodox standards require, it’s apparent to everyone who meets them that they are in love. “To say they are enamored,” Rabbi Kantor says, “would be an understatement.” Indeed, Rivki looks forward to teaching women visitors about the beauty of marital intimacy in Judaism, suggesting the zeal of one who experiences it. Like many new husbands, Gabi has a small smile playing on his face all the time, though maybe that’s also because he is finally getting to be what he always meant to be. He especially enjoys lighting a 25-foot Hanukkah menorah at the Gateway of India, where the whole world, it seems, can see it.

Rivki flies frequently to Israel. On one trip back, in 2004, she meets Chani Lifshitz in the airport. A Chabad emissary in Kathmandu, Chani, along with her husband, is famous for making the largest Seder in the world, serving 2,000 people in the heights of Nepal. In the airport, she and Rivki recognize each other as fellow shluchim “by the face,” Chani says. They become friends “like that.”

Every six months or so, they meet in Bangkok for three days of shopping. Rivki dresses “simple but classic”: T-shirts, slim skirts, cute, trendy glasses, a “big, big smile and a small, small necklace.” When you give her a compliment, “she doesn’t say no—she doesn’t fight with herself.” In between, they communicate electronically. Chani often leaves her Instant Messenger open, waiting for a ping. They discuss the decoration of their premises, share ideas for new programs and recipes. (Rivki is teaching herself to make soy milk from scratch.) They commiserate about the difficulty of their work, but not too much. Chani, with three children and another on the way, talks of their progress. Rivki doesn’t.

Chani knows why, but few others do. Menachem Mendel is dying in a hospital in Israel.

The destruction inside the Chabad House.Photo: Courtesy of Chabad.org

Babies with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease found among Eastern European Jews, seem normal at birth. Only after several months do symptoms appear: motor weakness, sensitivity to noise, and a telltale cherry-red spot on the retina. By 10 months, seizures have usually begun; soon after that come blindness, deafness, and brain atrophy. The disease is without exception fatal, usually by age 4.

Gabi and Rivki probably knew they were carriers, and certainly do by the time a second son, Dov Ber, is born with Tay-Sachs in 2004. He too is sent, after a while, to an Israeli hospital. This is why Rivki sometimes excuses herself from guests who wonder at the sight of an apparently childless young Lubavitcher woman: She goes to another room to cry. (“Why should I make them feel badly?”) It’s also why she flies home so often. After much painful discussion and rabbinic consultation—Rabbi Kantor says that Chabad made the decision that the Holtzbergs would not be easily replaced—they choose to stay in Mumbai and visit Israel as often as necessary. In any case, the visits are more for Rivki than the babies: Eventually, they do not seem to sense her presence even when she’s there. If she feels the same about God, she doesn’t let on.

Even after they move to a bigger space within Shelley’s Hotel, the situation is untenable. More and more people are seeking their services. Meals are difficult. Also, Shelley’s is being turned into a Planet Hollywood.

With the help of a large donation from investment banker George Rohr, Gabi is able to procure, for $1.5 million, a rundown five-story concrete office building on an alley called Hormusji Street. He has big plans for it: a kitchen, dining room, and restaurant on the first floor; a library, a synagogue, and an Internet lounge on the second; guest rooms on the third and fourth; their own apartment on the fifth. On the ground level, which has a wide blue gate but no walls, a guard will sit at a table in front of the elevator and stairs. On the roof, they will hold parties and special events on a terrace designed to catch the breeze and the view of the sea.

By the time the building is dedicated as India’s first permanent Chabad House, in 2006, Menachem Mendel has died at age 2 and Dov Ber is dying. Streams of pain wash over Rivki daily, Chani says. And—both terror and joy—she is pregnant again.

Thanks to the Chabad website and Google, there are now 20 to 30 businessmen, backpackers, and students arriving for 8 p.m. dinner each night; as many as 70 come on Shabbat. Rivki doesn’t attend to them alone: She has hired a fortyish Mumbaikar named Sandra Samuel to help clean and a young man from Assam named Zakir Hussain to help cook. Visitors who stay overnight notice that the guest rooms are outfitted with new toothbrushes, bottles of shampoo, Israeli hand soap: amenities of a nice hotel. But the Holtzbergs’ apartment is dilapidated and bare, little more than a bed and bookshelf. Paint is peeling from the walls. Only the empty blue child’s room is decorated, with the aleph-bet, pictures of ducks, and a portrait of the Rebbe.

To a Chabad crew filming them, Rivki hoarsely says of the work, “It’s fun.” Certainly it is for Gabi, who is ambitious for his faith and, like ambitious men everywhere, seeks success where it will stand out best. Besides running the Chabad, he is serving all of Mumbai’s synagogues and supervising kashruth for the region. He is “impressed by his own genius,” one guest observes. He leads each new roomful of Jews in loud renditions of all the old songs, even though he can’t carry a tune. “Adon Olam,” again? another guest thinks. When his sermons go on, or when people do not pay adequate attention to a video of the Rebbe he sometimes shows, he is peremptory. “If the girls don’t want to watch this, they can leave the room,” he says. The boy who insisted on sharpening knives until they are “beautiful good” is not deterred by trivialities. When terrorists attack Ahmedabad, some 300 miles north, and a visitor asks if Gabi is worried, he says, “I don’t care, they can come, be my guest, I’m not leaving.”

The talk one night turns to meditation. Gabi insists there is something parallel in Judaism: It’s called self-control. “If there are two apples in a bowl, personally I would always take the bad apple,” he says. “That’s my way of submitting.”

“What are you saying?” Rivki interrupts—she is not afraid of contradicting her husband, even in public, and he seems to enjoy it. “I would never take the bad apple, that’s crazy!”

Like believers in any faith that promises a joyful reward when the Messiah comes, Hasidim have well-developed mechanisms for ignoring, or even relishing, personal discomfort in deference to a greater mission. Perhaps it is a good feature of good works that they are exhausting, but to make a home in a Mumbai alley after growing up in Israel and Brooklyn is something more: a form of self-abnegation. Your stipend covers a respectable standard of living—but you have to raise the money yourself. You will not get rich being shluchim.

The issue of submission to fate is rendered moot that November, their first in the new Chabad House, when their third son is born. They name him Moshe. Perhaps they have him tested; in any case, by the time he is 6 months old, they know he does not have Tay-Sachs. He is their “miracle” child, their malach, or angel; when someone later says that he and Rivki seem like best friends, Rivki says Yes, my only friend.

Sandra is promoted to nanny. It is not just because she is low caste and poor that she is grateful for the job. The Holtzbergs are kind, and Moshe is an adorable baby, “very precious to me.” Her own two boys are, at 16 and 23, too old for mothering, but Sandra sleeps in Moshe’s room, itself a privilege. Hussain, whom everyone calls Jackie, sleeps on a mat under the stairwell and at one point must be gently told by Rivki to take down the pictures of naked women taped to the low ceiling above him.

The day breaks hot and humid, as usual, but Rivki is looking forward to it anyway. The air-conditioner works; there are no special events. Only a few visitors are expected that evening. Two rabbis—Bentzion Chorman and Leibish Teitelbaum—are in town to supervise Kosher certification for a mushroom-packing plant. Chorman likes breaded chicken, so Rivki will prepare it for dinner. Yocheved Orpaz, from Israel, is visiting her daughter and grandchildren; Olga Daniella Bakayeva—Daniella, they call her, a volunteer from Seattle—said she’d come back after enjoying her Shabbat meal last week. (Even now her Facebook page is bragging about the best cholent she’s eaten in ages.) And Norma Schwartzblatt-Rabinowitz, from Mexico, will be here on the way to making aliyah: immigrating to Israel. Rivki will bake her an apple cake.

But Rivki’s mind drifts from immediate matters. It’s Wednesday, November 26, 2008: Moshe’s 2nd birthday is on Saturday. Could two years have passed so quickly? He is thriving and, now that Sandra is with him, can finally sleep through the night without his ema—Hebrew for “mother”—at his side. Otherwise, how could Rivki be pregnant with his little brother or sister? She is five months along, expecting in April.

Taking a quick break from dinner preparations around 7:30, Rivki e-mails her friend Chani. With the baby coming, what color should they paint the upstairs?

Sandra grabs the baby without thinking and runs as fast as she can into the street. His clothes are spattered with his parents’ blood.

Four days earlier—at 8 a.m. on Saturday, November 22—ten men leave Karachi in a small boat. Soon they meet up with a larger ship, which takes them on another leg of their journey. Their leader is a 25-year-old Pakistani named Ismail Khan. Khan receives orders by satellite phone from handlers in Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Lahore-based terrorist group that seeks to establish Muslim rule throughout South Asia. In Urdu, the group’s name means Army of the Pure.

On Sunday, the men hijack an Indian fishing trawler, killing four crew members and eventually its captain. Another 550 nautical miles’ sail on the Arabian Sea brings them within sight of Mumbai. By now, it’s Wednesday afternoon. They wait for darkness. At about 8:30 p.m., they board a dinghy and head for land, leaving behind their shaving cream, laundry detergent, and a bottle of Mountain Dew. They disembark just south of the Gateway of India. Telling anyone who asks that they are students, they divide up into five teams and disperse into the night: to the central railway station, to the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, to the touristy Leopold Café, and to the house on Hormusji Street.

Chani, in Kathmandu, has an idea for what color Rivki should paint. She opens her Internet Messenger and waits for the ping.

Dinner is over, but the two rabbis and Gabi are still on the second floor, probably discussing Torah, as Gabi is wont to do late into the night. It has been a quiet evening. A few visitors dropped by but left. Norma and Yocheved are already upstairs. Sandra and Jackie are in the first-floor kitchen; perhaps Rivki is with them, helping to clean up. Or perhaps Rivki is with the men. It will be hard, in retrospect, to piece this information together. But Moshe is asleep in his blue fifth-floor bedroom.

At 9:30, the two men assigned to attack the Chabad House arrive at the gate with their Kalashnikovs, pistols, hand grenades, and bombs. The guard, mysteriously, is gone. A taxi, waiting to take the rabbis to the airport after dinner, speeds away as the shooting begins. It sounds to Sandra like hundreds of explosions; she and Jackie lock themselves into the pantry among the meat freezers and jars of olives and pickles. “Like cowards,” she says later. Gabi, on the phone with the Israeli consulate, says, in Hebrew, “The situation is not good,” and the line goes dead.

Sandra and Jackie spend the night in the pantry. They do not know what is happening in the rest of the house. On Thursday morning around eleven, they hear Moshe crying: Ema! Ema! Not knowing whether the gunmen are still in the building (they are), Sandra dashes upstairs, as Jackie escapes down. She finds the boy standing next to the bodies of his parents—dead or dying, she doesn’t know. She grabs him without thinking and runs as fast as she can into the street. His clothes are spattered with his parents’ blood.

By the time Indian commandos, airdropped into the building, get control of the situation, as Shabbat begins on Friday evening, Gabi, Rivki, Norma, Yocheved, Chorman, and Teitelbaum all are dead. (Daniella Bakayeva decided not to come for dinner after all but took a walk instead.) The timing of the killings, and possible torture, is unclear. According to some reports, someone was still alive as late as Friday morning to wave a prayer shawl from a window. But who was waving, and what did it mean? Was it a gunman, trying to surrender? In transcripts of intercepted phone calls, handlers back in Lahore instruct one of the terrorists to kill the hostages in order to “spoil relations” between India and Israel. “Brother, you have to fight,” they say, as if he were wavering. “This is a matter of the prestige of Islam.”

For months, Moshe has been “very nervous,” Nachman Holtzberg says. “Nobody knows what he knows.” Things that remind him of India—a toy, a visitor—seem to bring it all back, and he wails.

“I waited for you to connect to the Messenger,” says Chani.

Addressing a conference of 2,000 women emissaries at the New York Hilton in February, she is speaking as if it were still November and she could still talk directly to Rivki. “I waited for you to connect to the Messenger so that we could have coffee and a croissant together in front of the screen, as we’ve done for the last four years. A sort of private virtual joke. You prepare the morning pastry on a plate, with a detailed description of taste and texture. And always something different: one day apple pie, one day jelly cookies with cream. I prepare the drinks. In the summer, I would offer you fruit juices, and in the winter, I would roll tea leaves from Dodover Square and Geiyah Bazaar market. I’m waiting for you with the tea, Rivki. Waiting for your cake … But you’re not coming, Rivki, and your tea is getting cold.”

Instant messenger, Facebook, cell phones: The technology that made the Holtzbergs’ life in Mumbai less lonely also helped to explain its end. It is largely because Ismail Khan made the mistake of leaving his satellite phone in the dinghy that we know what we do about the terrorists’ movements; Khan and eight of the others were killed in the fighting. The sole survivor, Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, went on trial last month in Mumbai. His interrogation suggests that the attacks were part of a far broader scheme, some of which fizzled.

As it was, more than 170 people were killed in Mumbai. Many were tourists, enjoying a bite at the Leopold or settling in for an evening at the Oberoi. Others were locals, including doctors in a hospital that was, it seems, attacked as an afterthought.

The Holtzbergs were neither tourists nor locals. They were emissaries from one world to the other. Perhaps it’s more relevant to say they were Jews. In any case, to those who believe they died with the words of the Shema on their lips, their death is but another moment in their lives. What they endured in those last hours—did they know that Moshe escaped alive?—does not invalidate what they enjoyed of life beforehand, and suffered of it, too. Many in the community are therefore torn about discussing “the tragedy.” Some speak anyway, in thousands of posts to Chabad’s website. Others have commemorated the family by naming babies for them; Nachman Holtzberg has reports of 70 new Gabis and 60 new Rivkis—one of them Chani’s daughter, born this month. And others have contributed to the Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund, which will eventually continue the Holtzbergs’ mission.

For Chabad has made it clear that it is not retrenching. In December, the Holtzbergs’ parents flew to Mumbai to light the 25-foot Hanukkah menorah at the Gateway of India and another in front of the ruined house on Hormusji Street. Though no decision has yet been made about the building itself, teams of young rabbis have spent time in the city, teaching and officiating and offering meals at locations that are no longer Googleable. (Security measures have been upgraded at Chabad Houses worldwide.) Rabbi Kantor, in Bangkok, says he has even begun interviewing couples who, unsolicited, have sought to be the next shluchim in Mumbai.

Nachman Holtzberg has retrieved Gabi’s knives—the only personal items not held as evidence. Back in Brooklyn, he says he’d be proud if his other children became shluchim too. “I would be happy, absolutely.”

And his wife?

He sighs. “Not everyone can be the same.”

A few weeks after the attacks, in late December, Dov Ber dies at age 4. (It is later learned that the baby Rivki was carrying had tested negative for Tay-Sachs.) Nachman Holtzberg does not want to discuss it: “It’s not important,” he says. He means we must focus on what is ongoing, which means Moshe. Now he, too, is an emissary; the only Jew to survive, he accompanied the bodies of the six victims on an Israeli Air Force flight from Mumbai. His parents are buried next to his brothers on the Mount of Olives.

Many have noted that Moshe, like his biblical namesake, was rescued by a non-Jew; Sandra, now taking care of him at Rivki’s parents’ home in Afula, has been mentioned as a possible recipient of Israel’s “righteous Gentile” designation. That would allow her to remain with him, she hopes, at least until he is “fully normal.”

But what will that mean? For months, Moshe has been “very nervous,” Nachman Holtzberg says. “Nobody knows what he knows.” Things that remind him of India—a toy, a visitor—seem to bring it all back, and he wails. But Sandra, in a recent phone conversation, says Moshe has forgotten what Urdu he knew and has not asked for his parents in fourteen days.

“It’s a good thing,” she adds. And maybe it is. The world is a painful place to get to know.

At which point Moshe, who has been giggling in the background, grabs the phone. “Shalom?” he inquires.

God’s Work