As they mourned a rabbi and his wife murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, officials of the Chabad Lubavitch worldwide outreach movement were encouraging their emissaries in other parts of the world to stay strong and continue their mission.
"You know how to face adversity and challenges," said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky at a press conference in Crown Heights Brooklyn that was televised around the world. " Keep strong and continue to forge ahead with courage and fortitude in the service of our people and mankind to make this a better place to live for all."
Rabbi Krinsky, formerly the personal secretary of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, is chairman of the educational and social service arms of Chabad.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivka, 28, Israelis who became American citizens and lived in Brooklyn, were among five people found dead at the Chabad center following a standoff with terrorists who attacked the building on Wednesday. It is unclear if they died at some point during the attack or during a rescue attempt by Indian commandos. One of the Holtzbergs’ children, a toddler, was safely evacuated from the center.
The Chabad center in Mumbai, India, was a haven for Jewish travelers, including thousands of Israelis who travel across India following their army service. The terrorists who attacked the center seemed to have scouted the location beforehand, leaving open the possibility that dozens of other Chabad centers around the globe could be targeted.
Rabbi Krinsky said that the evacuated child would be taken in by the Chabad community and that he was to turn two on Saturday.
"Today he became an orphan without his mother and father to lovingly embrace him and celebrate with him. The world of Lubavitch will adopt this young toddler and assure him the best possible upbringing into adulthood."
On Friday the boy had been turned over to his maternal grandparents who flew in from Israel.
At the same Crown Heights press conference, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said the events show "how an act of terrorism around the world has an impact in New York, which is no stranger to terrorism."
He assured the public that the police department was getting constant intelligence information about the Mumbai attacks that might affect New York security.
"We monitor world events on a daily basis and make adjustments regularly on how we police the city … I assure you that here in New York City we are resolved to be vigilant
The deaths of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, were confirmed Friday by the director of American Friends of Lubavitch, Rabbi Levi Shemtov. Three other Israelis in the building were also killed; their names were not released. (Read the obituary from Chabad.Org here)
Conflicting reports following the takeover of Mumbai’s Chabad-Lubavitch house in the terrorist attacks in India, which left more than 140 dead, prompted confusion and anxiety surrounding the fate of the house’s occupants, including the Holtzbergs.
Four Israelis were among those freed from the Trident-Oberoi luxury hotel along with other hostages late Friday morning, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Gunmen armed with automatic rifles and grenades struck 10 separate locations in Mumbai on Wednesday night in coordinated attacks at sites frequented by Westerners, including hotels, restaurants and a railway station. Witnesses said the gunmen — who killed more than 140 people, set buildings ablaze and took hostages — targeted Americans, Britons and Jews. Mumbai’s Chabad house was among the targets.
On Thursday afternoon, Indian commandos surrounded the Nariman House, where Chabad is located, with plans to storm in and release the hostages. There reportedly were four terrorists holed up inside with six hostages. Indian special forces reportedly killed one terrorist in the building.
Earlier Thursday, the hostage takers released the Holtzberg’s 2-year-old son and the building’s cook, who said that the couple was alive but unconscious.
The terrorists also took hostages at the Taj Mahal Palace and Trident-Oberoi luxury hotels. The identity of the attackers is not known. A little-known organization calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility.
One terrorist inside the Chabad house called an Indian TV channel Thursday afternoon and offered to enter into talks with the government to release the hostages, Reuters reported.
The Chabad house is located at 5 Hormusji Street in Mumbai. India is a popular destination for young Israeli backpackers, who often make the trip after their army service. The Holtzbergs moved to Mumbai from Brooklyn, New York in 2003 to do Jewish outreach work in India.
One Indian TV channel said five or six Israelis were also among the 100 to 200 hostages being held at the Oberoi hotel, Ynet reported. Some 10 to 15 Israelis are said to be held hostage in sites throughout the city, the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Ynet.
Concern about the fate of the Chabad rabbi and his wife mounted throughout the day, with the Brooklyn-based organization issuing calls for prayer to Jews the world over. The National Council of Young Israel also sent out an alert asking Jews to pray for the rabbi and his wife.
"One friend of Gavriel Holtzberg reported receiving an e-mail from the Mumbai rabbi at 11:30 p.m. local time," Chabad.org reported. "The Israeli Consulate was in touch with Holtzberg, but the line was cut in middle of the conversation. No further contact has since been established."
On Thursday morning, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Chabad rabbi’s toddler son was rushed from the house in the arms of one of the Jewish center’s employees, Sandra Samuel.
"I took the child, I just grabbed the baby and ran out," said Samuel, 44, who was identified as a cook.