Zalman's Blog

In the Shadow of the First Anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre

This past weekend I joined 3500 Chabad Rabbis for the annual Chabad Lubavitch International Shluchim Conference.


But this year, in the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre, was different.


The chosen date of the annual conference is the Shabbat prior to the Hebrew month of Kislev; the first of Kislev being a festival of sorts within the Chabad movement. On this date in 1977, the Rebbe, then aged 75, returned home for the first time from his office/makeshift Intensive Care Unit, after suffering a series of massive heart attacks in the middle of the Simchat Torah celebrations 5 weeks earlier. The date has since been marked annually as one of thanksgiving to G-d for the Rebbe’s recovery and a celebration of the Rebbe’s remarkable achievements during the next 16 years.


But this year, in the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre, was different.


To be honest, I boarded the NY-bound flight last Wednesday with some trepidation. How would the conference maintain its positive, upbeat atmosphere this year? How would friends revel in each others friendships and celebrate the achievements of the past 12 months? How could Chabad leaders and conference delegates share hope, optimism and celebration this year?


In the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre.


Though I knew without a doubt what the prevalent atmosphere would be, I still wondered, and headed off to NY apprehensively.


Arye, an alumni of Brighton & Sussex Medical School, joined me at the conference gala banquet on Sunday evening.  Arye noted to a reporter that it was only on Sunday evening that it occurred to him how close to home the Mumbai Massacre had struck. For Arye, Rabbi Gabi & Rivki Holtzberg and their Mumbai centre had been distant names until the roll call, when 4000+ Rabbis and Lay Leaders offered a thunderous applause to the Shluchim of Mumbai, while the cameras closed in on Gabi & Rivki’s fathers, shown on giant screens throughout the hall.


After last year’s conference, Chabad rabbis returned to posts across the world invigorated and motivated. All positive feelings quickly evaporated when we learned of the siege at Chabad of Mumbai, and we spent the next few days monitoring the news updates with dread, and then despair, as the horrendous news was confirmed; our dear colleagues Gabi & Rivki and their four guests had been brutally murdered by barbaric terrorists.


Miraculously, the babysitter and a cook managed to rescue young Moishele, who celebrated his third birthday today with his grandparents in Israel.


The spirit that is Chabad shone forth at this year’s conference in full force, in the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre.


On Thursday evening, the final letters of a new Torah Scroll were penned in memory of the victims. The scroll, which will be housed at the newly renovated Mumbai Chabad Centre, was escorted through the street amid live music, joyous singing and dancing. Outside Chabad World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, an estimated 6000 people gathered to greet the Torah and celebrate this truly festive occasion.


There was hope and joy in the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre.


The atmosphere created by the joyous Torah celebration transformed the conference to one of optimism and hopefulness.


Shabbat in Crown Heights was inspirational. And then the gala banquet.


How do you transform a US Military Troop C Armoury, built for the purpose of military drills, into a banqueting suite for the Rebbe’s army? Click here for a one-week time lapse 2 minute video of the banquet, from set up to clean up. If you know anything about catering, you’ll be floored!


A video depicting the lives of Rabbi & Mrs Holtzberg was shown during the banquet. It struck me as the video ended that this was yet another production that exemplifies what Chabad stands for. The video was full of motivation and hope, charging us to perpetuate the memories of these two young giants, who gave their lives on duty, carrying the Rebbe’s message of concern for every Jew, far from the comforts of family and friends, Afulah or Brooklyn, at Mumbai’s Chabad House.


We have returned to our posts encouraged and motivated; ready to share the warmth and inspiration with each and every Jew we encounter, in the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre.


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