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'He made disconnected Jews feel like family'

Gabi and Rivki were real for me. We often hear about tragedies in distant, disconnected places, and feel frustratingly estranged from them. We want to connect, but cant; we feel as though in a different world.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2008 22:53 IST

I lived in Mumbai for six months last year and would go to the Beit Chabad with friends for a Shabbat meal about every second week. Over the course of the months, I got to know the Rabbi, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka, quite well.

They were wonderful people; warm, inviting and engaging. Gabi (Gavriel) would get visibly excited to have so many guests for Shabbat. You could tell it really made his week. He would have a grin almost the entire meal, including during his Dvar Torah. He was always so eager to create a communal feeling that he insisted everyone go around the table and say a few words to the group, giving guests four options: either delivering a Dvar Torah, relating an inspirational story, declaring to take on a mitzvah, or leading a song.

As most of the guests were Israeli backpackers and other passers-through, they might have found this quite novel. For us regulars, it was just Gabi's shtick.

Gabi was also exceptionally thoughtful. Though most of the guests were Israeli, Gabi would give his Dvar Torah in English for the sake of the few of us English-speakers there with sketchy Hebrew. He made it his personal mission to make a group of disconnected Jews feel like a family. It worked. That was Gabi.

Rivki was a certified sweetheart. She'd generally sit apart from Gabi, to spread herself out, and usually sat with the girls. She too relished Friday night dinners - I think she needed her weekly female bonding time. She'd talk to the girls about the challenges of keeping kosher in India, and share exciting new finds at the market together. You could tell she was far from home, in this dense Mumbai jungle, but she was tough and really made the best of it. That was Rivki. Brave, fun-loving, and super sweet.

Gabi and Rivki were real for me. We often hear about tragedies in distant, disconnected places, and feel frustratingly estranged from them. We want to connect, but cant; we feel as though in a different world. And mere numbers, names and images don't amass too much. When I would look at the young Moishe I would see Gabi's face, and Rivki's carefree spirit.

Chabad lost two soldiers, emissaries and keepers of the Jewish people. Let us honour their work and their lives in our prayers, in our thoughts, and in our deeds, and let us pray for the families of the dozens of other victims of these attacks.

(The writer was a friend of Israeli couple RabbiGavriel Holtzberg and Rivka who were killed at Nariman House in the terror attacks)