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Life begins again at 3

Even over a crackling phone connection from Israel, the pride in Sandra Samuel’s voice is unmistakable as she talks about three-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, reports Anshika Misra.

mumbai Updated: Nov 25, 2009 23:38 IST
Anshika Misra

Even over a crackling phone connection from Israel, the pride in Sandra Samuel’s voice is unmistakable as she talks about three-year-old Moshe Holtzberg.

“He’s going to school now,” says the Catholic nanny, in her Indian-accented English. “He is in kindergarten and he’s very clever.”

The bond between Samuel and Moshe, whose Israeli parents Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka were among six Jews gunned down at Colaba’s Chabad House last year, was sealed by the tragedy.

Orphaned two days before his second birthday, Moshe now lives with his maternal grandparents, Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg and Yehudit, in Afula in northern Israel.

Samuel (45), who worked for the Holtzbergs for five years, grabbed Moshe and escaped from Chabad House after hiding in a storeroom through a night peppered with gunshots.

She hasn’t left his side since.

Acknowledging Samuel’s bravery, the Israeli government issued her a visa so she could live in Israel with Moshe.

“You should see him now,” says Samuel. “He has grown taller and started running.”

Thrilled to be talking to someone from her city, the little-educated Samuel switches from English to Bambaiyya Hindi.

“He is naughty. He likes dancing… screaming and watching cartoons,” she says, trying to eclipse the past and stress that the Moshe is growing up ‘normal’.

But the tragedy looms over the boy.

On his third birthday on November 29 (according to the Roman Calendar), Moshe will not have a party. His birthday, celebrated as per the Jewish calendar on November 18, was brought in with prayers and he had his first haircut.

Samuel, changing the subject quickly, talks about how Moshe can now count up to 50. “He knows ABCD… and even the Hebrew alphabet,” she says.

Asked if Moshe misses his parents, she adds: “He has become very close to his grandmother. But when he sees a photograph of his parents, he points out his Eema and Abba (Hebrew for mother and father) to us.”

When Moshe moved to Israel, he was reunited with his brother, who was undergoing treatment for Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic disorder. Moshe’s eldest brother had died of the same disease and the second brother too succumbed to it last December.

“Moshe is alone now,” says his grandfather, a rabbi and high school principal. “But when he grows up, I want him to return to India and carry on his parents’ work.”

Samuel, meanwhile, is preparing for a 10-day trip to Mumbai next month.

“This is the first time I’ll be leaving Moshe,” says the widow, who barely met her own 25-year-old son, who lives in Mira Road, for an hour before leaving for Israel last year. “I miss home, but Moshe needs me.”