For Lawrence Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, have brought both a loss of a close friend and a blow to the Jewish Chabad movement.
Among those killed in the terrorist assaults were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28, who built and ran a Chabad House in Mumbai.
Tiechtel, director of the Chabad Jewish Center at Kansas University, grew up just a few houses away from Gavriel Holtzberg in Brooklyn in New York.
They were classmates for nine years, attending primary and rabbinical school together.
“He meant so much to me personally,” Tiechtel said.
And the terrorist attack was targeted at a Chabad House, which shares the same mission as the one here in Lawrence and is part of a worldwide organization that acts as a harbor of both Jewish and humanitarian resources.
It was the first time that a Chabad House, which number more than 3,500, has experienced such a level of violence, Tiechtel said.
“It was an edifice that was dedicated to warmth and joy and love for everyone that needed it,” Tiechtel said. “The fact that they targeted such a location makes it an even greater tragedy.”
According to the Associated Press, terrorists attacked the Mumbai Chabad House, which media reports often referred to as the Nariman House, late Wednesday night. On Friday morning, elite Indian commandoes stormed the building. Once inside, they found six hostages dead, including Holtzberg and his wife.
The two were among the 174 people reported killed during the terrorist attacks. The Jewish center was one of 10 sites targeted. The couple’s 2-year-old son Moshe escaped with a maid, the Associated Press reported.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tiechtel learned of the hostage situation in India. Since then, he hasn’t slept and has been glued to the TV and Internet waiting for news on his friend.
Tiechtel said the Holtzberg family was an inspiration as they moved from Brooklyn to a vastly different culture in Mumbai.
“He always had a smile, regardless of the hardship,” Tiechtel said. “And the wife was a very wise woman, really a leader in her own way.”
The Chabad House was the center of the Jewish community in Mumbai. It provided a home away from home for Jewish tourists and businessmen. It also provided drug rehabilitation services for the community, Tiechtel said.
Tiechtel hopes the world will “fight darkness with light,” either by lighting candles or doing good deeds.
“This terrible tragedy is something any individual can take to heart and make the world a better place in response to,” Tiechtel said.