Long Islanders remember rabbi, wife slain in Mumbai


Special to Newsday; Staff writer Anthony M. DeStefano contributed to this story.

November 29, 2008


For the past five years when Rivkah Holtzberg and her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, wanted to eat kosher food, they couldn't simply walk down the street and purchase the meals from a store because such stores didn't exist where they lived in Mumbai.

Instead, Rivkah had to cook the meat, milk the cows and prepare each meal the couple ate. As members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a type of Orthodox Judaism, the Holtzbergs gave up their lives and the Western comforts they had grown accustomed to in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to become emissaries to India.

About two years ago, Brocha Lipszyc, a member of the Town of Oyster Bay Chabad in Woodbury, said she attended a talk by Rivkah Holtzberg about her experiences at her Chabad House in India.

"I remember her saying 'I'm doing something unique with my life,'" Lipszyc said.

In the Mumbai Chabad, the place where the Holtzbergs were found dead Friday in a series of terrorist attacks on the city, they ran a synagogue, offered Torah lessons and operated a drug rehabilitation program, said Rabbi Shmuel Lipszyc, the director of the Town of Oyster Bay Chabad and Brocha's husband.

"The Holtzbergs made a difference," Lipszyc said. "They may have passed away, but a lot of the good deeds that they did and the people they've helped will live on."

To commemorate the couple, Lipszyc, his wife and three of their eight children held a candle-lighting ceremony on Friday afternoon at the Chabad House in Woodbury.

"Just now a light was extinguished, and by lighting the candles we're adding light back to the world," Lipszyc said.

In Crown Heights, Rabbi Yitzhok Itkin, 29, who went to rabbinic school with Gavriel Holtzberg, spent part of the afternoon reading from a book of psalms in memorial prayer. Facing east, Itkin swayed rhythmically as he prayed inside the Jewish Children's Museum on Eastern Parkway.

Like Holtzberg, Itkin is an emissary for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, working on the upper East Side of Manhattan. Holtzberg did a lot of good for Jews in India, and supervised the construction of a ritual bath, or mikvah, in Mumbai, he said. Itkin believes fellow Jews are resolute in their faith in the face of killings like those in Mumbai.

"I think people feel determined," he said.