Gavriel Holtzberg

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Gavriel Noach Holtzberg
Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg.jpg
Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg
Born9 June 1979
Died26 November 2008(2008-11-26) (aged 29)[1]
Mumbai, India
NationalityAmerican and Israeli
SpouseRivka Rosenberg
  • Menachem Mendel (2003–2006)
  • Dov Ber (2004–2008)
  • Moshe Tzvi (b. November 2006)
ParentsNachman and Freida Holtzberg
OccupationRabbi of Mumbai Chabad House
Buried2 December 2008
Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel[2]
ResidenceMumbai, India

Gavriel Noach Holtzberg (Hebrew: גבריאל נח הולצברג‎; 9 June 1979 – 26 November 2008 (29th of Cheshvan 5769)) was an Israeli American Orthodox rabbi and the Chabad emissary to Mumbai, India, where he and his wife Rivka ran the Mumbai Chabad House. He was also a religious leader and community builder for the local Jewish Indian community,[3][4][5] and led the Friday-night Shabbat services at the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue.[6] Holtzberg and his wife were murdered during the 2008 Mumbai attacks perpetrated by Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Early life and family[edit]

Holtzberg was born in Israel to Nachman and Freida Holtzberg. He and his family moved to the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, when he was 9 years old. He had eight siblings. During his years in elementary school, he memorised the entire Second Order of the Mishnah, Moed verbatim and was a two-time champion in a competition of memorizing the Mishnah.[7] During his high school years, Holtzberg was known for his knowledge of the Talmud. He traveled to Jerusalem for an international Talmudic competition, where he came in second.[8]

He studied at yeshivas in New York and Argentina, and as a rabbinical student served communities in Thailand and China under the Summer Rabbinical Visitation Program run by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.[7]

Holtzberg had long desired to become a Chabad emissary. He spent time as a student in the Chabad house in Bangkok, and helped open a Chabad house in south Thailand.[9]

His future rebbetzin, Rivka Holtzberg née Rosenberg, was born in Israel to Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, and was raised in Afula. She studied at a Bais Rivka seminary in Kfar Chabad, Israel. Her uncle was Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha'Emek, Israel.

The Holtzbergs married in 2002.[10] Their firstborn son, Menachem Mendel, was born a year later, afflicted with Tay–Sachs disease. He died of this disease at the age of 3.[1] Their second son, DovBer, was born with the same ailment and was institutionalized in a pediatric long-term care facility in Israel under the care of his grandparents. He died at the age of 4 in December 2008, one month after his parents' murder.[11] Their third son, Moshe, was born healthy and lived with them in Mumbai. They lived together on the fifth floor of the Chabad House.[12] It was revealed by her father during her funeral that Rivka was five months pregnant with her fourth child at the time she was slain.[13]

Work in Mumbai[edit]

Nariman House[edit]

After Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg married, they subsequently moved to Mumbai to serve as Chabad emissaries and open the first Chabad House in Mumbai.[14] Under his leadership, the Chabad organisation acquired Nariman House. He ran the synagogue in addition to him and his wife being directors of the Mumbai Chabad headquarters. He installed a kosher kitchen and a mikvah at Nariman House, and taught the Torah, offered drug prevention services and ran a hostel there.[15][16] They led Shabbat meals every week at Nariman House with between 50–60 people and 30–40 people per night during the week,[17] where they hosted Jews from all walks of life, including notable figures such as Sir Martin Gilbert[18] and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin,[19] to humanitarian workers, business people and Israeli backpackers visiting India.

In an article published in 2006, Holtzberg said he understood the nature of the Israeli traveler's needs saying they "need relief" from the army, from work, from real life.[14] He added that "they come here to do everything the army didn’t allow them to do. Their shoes had to be polished and tied – here they wear sandals. They had to cut their hair – here they grow their hair long."[14]

Local Jewish community[edit]

There are between 4,500 and 5,000 Indian Jews in Mumbai. Holtzberg was a religious leader for that community, leading Friday night services at the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue, also performing marriages for them, acting as the shochet (the kosher slaughtering of animals) and supplying the community with kosher meat, answering halakhic principles for them, such as what is to be done in the rites and customs of Judaism,[3][7][20] as well as being a trained Mohel (performing the circumcision or "bris" of Jewish babies).[7] In addition to helping gather donations and do fund-raising for T'feret Israel and build an additional mikvah for the synagogue,[3] he and his wife also taught Jewish studies and the Torah to local Jews and tourists and provided their mikveh to be used by local Jews,[17] and made challah available to them.[citation needed]


On 26 November 2008, Nariman House was attacked during the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the Holtzbergs were taken hostage. Sandra Samuel, a maid at the house and the nanny for their 2-year-old son, Moshe, managed to escape with the boy. As the siege began, Samuel locked the doors and hid in a room. She heard Rivka screaming "Sandra, Sandra, help, Sandra." The gunmen reportedly went door-to-door, searching for targets, so Samuel unlocked her door, but they did not find her. She then ran upstairs to find the Holtzbergs shot and lying on the ground with their son crying over them, so she picked him up and ran to the exit.[21] The Holtzbergs and other hostages were reportedly tortured.[22]

Two days after the siege of the house began, Indian security forces seized the house and found the Holtzbergs and six others dead. It was concluded that the Holtzberg's wife had been killed many hours before,[23] and several of the bodies were covered in tallit, including Rivka Holtzberg's, leading witnesses to speculate that the rabbi managed to cover the bodies before he was killed.[24]

Response from the United States[edit]

Several high-ranking U.S. politicians released statements on the Mumbai attacks, specifically referencing Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg by name, including President-elect Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Governor David Paterson of New York.

Response from Australia[edit]

In December 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told more than 1,000 people at a memorial service at the Yeshiva Centre in New South Wales that Holtzberg and his wife had “devoted their lives to acts of goodness and kindness and compassion for others ... but they lost their lives in a senseless act of hatred. In the face of this terror we must not bow to fear. We must respond by spreading our own message of tolerance and respect for people of other backgrounds and other beliefs.” Federal Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. Consul-General Judith Fergin also spoke at the memorial service. A representative from the Indian Consulate was also present.[25]

In a speech to Federal Parliament, Michael Danby, a Jewish member of the ruling Labor Party, said it was important to remember the names of the innocent victims of the attacks, stating that “I raise my voice in this national parliament and praise the memory of those innocent kedoshim who were killed in the Chabad House in Mumbai only because they were Jews.”[25]


Thousands of people attended the funeral of Holtzberg and his wife, with eulogies delivered in the town of Kfar Chabad followed by a procession to Jerusalem's ancient Mount of Olives cemetery, where the couple was buried.[26] Among those who attended were the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, President Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, several Shas ministers and MKs, government ministers, Knesset members, Chabad emissaries from around the world, the American and Indian ambassadors to Israel, and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, head of Agudas Hassidei Chabad International, the movement's umbrella organization.[27][28]

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky vice chairman of Chabad's educational arm, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, from New York, eulogized the couple at the funeral, saying "I vow that we will avenge the deaths of Gabi and Rivki. But not with AK-47s, not with grenades and tanks. We will take revenge in a different way. We will add light. We will add good deeds. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish man who does not put on tefillin. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish woman who does not light candles," speaking of one of the aims of the Chabad movement.[28] Kotlarsky also said that the Chabad House would be rebuilt, and that it would be named after the Holtzbergs.[28] Kotlarsky also aimed his message at the couple's surviving son, Moshe, saying "You don't have a mother who will hug you. You are the child of all of Israel."[29] In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a memorial service was held for Gavriel and his wife at a Chabad synagogue, where almost 1,500 people attended.[30]


The Holtzbergs' son Moshe, who survived the attack, and his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel, subsequently moved to Israel where Moshe's grandparents live. The Israeli Government under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni awarded Samuel a special visa offering immigration status. Samuel has stated she will continue to care for Moshe for as long as necessary.[31] Israel is considering honouring her as a Righteous Gentile, the highest Israeli award that may be presented to non-Jews, allowing her to remain in Israel for an extended period of time.

A video of Moshe crying at the funeral service for his parents and crying "Imma, Imma," which means "Mommy, Mommy" in Hebrew was widely published.[32][33]

See also[edit]

  • Sarah Avraham, who with her family was close friends with the Holtzbergs, and who in the wake of the attack and the killings converted to Judaism, and immigrated to Israel.


  1. ^ a b Lavie, Mark (1 December 2008). "Orphan of slain rabbi in Mumbai lands in Israel". Associated Press.
  2. ^ ""Jerusalem funeral of Mumbai rabbi", Australian Jewish News, 3 December 2008". Archived from the original on 6 January 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Berkman, Jacob (28 November 2008). "Grim news from Mumbai hits home". JTA. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012.
  4. ^ "Questions churn about attackers". The Commercial Appeal. 30 November 2008.
  5. ^ Morton, Michael (27 November 2008). "Ashland man worries for friend in Mumbai". The MetroWest Daily News.
  6. ^ Kahn, Jeremy (3 December 2008). "Jews of Mumbai, a Tiny and Eclectic Group, Suddenly Reconsider Their Serene Existence". The New York Times. p. A16.
  7. ^ a b c d Mumbai-Based Rabbi and Wife Killed in Terrorist Attacks, Chabad, Joshua Runyan and Motti Seligson , 28 November 2008
  8. ^ Jewish Center Is Stormed, and 6 Hostages Die, New York Times, Ralph Blumenthal, 28 November 2008
  9. ^ Chabad Movement Vows to Continue Work of Couple Killed in Attack, New York Times, Cara Buckley, 30 November 2008
  10. ^ Robbins, Liz; Healy, Jack (29 November 2008). "Brooklyn Couple Killed in Attacks". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "4-Year-Old Son Of Kedoshim Holtzberg Dies of Illness". Vos Is Neias? 30 December 2008
  12. ^ Mumbai victims' son searches for mother, Yedioth Ahronoth, Ronen Medzini, 1 December 2008
  13. ^ Kershner, Isabel (2 December 2008). "Orphaned Boy Is Focus at Hostages' Funeral". The New York Times. p. A16.
  14. ^ a b c Kadosh, Dikla (17 May 2006). "Israelis Invade India". Namaste. Archived from the original on December 1, 2008.
  15. ^ Khalil, Ashraf (1 December 2008). "After Mumbai attacks, Israel debates protection for Chabad Houses". Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ The House With Five Steps Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine, Tehelka, Rohini Mohan, 30 November 2008
  17. ^ a b Chabad Rivkah Holtzberg, Chabad House Director, Was No Stranger to Hardship, Chabad, Sara Esther Crispe, 2 December 2008
  18. ^ Sharing Memories, Chabad, accessed 5 December 2008]
  19. ^ Remembering Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg Archived 2008-12-02 at the Wayback Machine, JTA, Benjamin Holtzman, 28 November 2008
  20. ^ Rabbi, wife 'spread Jewish pride' in Mumbai, CNN, Paula Hancocks, accessed 4 December 2008
  21. ^ Nanny credited with tot's daring rescue, CNN, Drew Griffin and Paula Hancocks, 2 December 2008
  22. ^ Mumbai terror attacks: And then they came for the Jews – Times Online
  23. ^ 'We will not show the pain we feel ... not now', The Globe and Mail, Patrick Martin, 29 November 2008
  24. ^ Chabad Movement Vows to Continue Work of Couple Killed in Attack, New York Times, Cara Buckley, 30 November 2008
  25. ^ a b Australia’s prime minister honors Holtzbergs Archived 2011-08-07 at the Wayback Machine, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), 9 December 2008.
  26. ^ 'We will fight terrorists with torches'[permanent dead link], Associated Press and The Jerusalem Post, 2 December 2008
  27. ^ Masses gather for Chabad emissaries' funeral, Yedioth Ahronoth, Yael Levy, 2 December 2008
  28. ^ a b c Vengeance through kindness[permanent dead link], The Jerusalem Post, Matthew Wagner, 3 December 2008
  29. ^ You are a child of Israel, orphaned two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg is told, The Times, Sheera Frenkel, 3 December 2008
  30. ^ Canadian Jews mourn Mumbai victims, Canadian Jewish News, Frances Kraft, 4 December 2008
  31. ^ In her own words, nanny's brave escape in Mumbai, CNN, 4 December 2008.
  32. ^ Pictures of the Day, 1 December, New York Times, 1 December 2008
  33. ^ Orphan cries for mommy at her Mumbai funeral, Associated Press, 1 December 2008

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