Amid the shock and mourning surrounding the Hamas terror attacks in Israel, members of the Jewish, Indian and Israeli communities gathered at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison, New Jersey to commemorate the 15th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Mumbai that left a Chabad rabbi, his wife and others dead.
At the Nov. 28 program, “Remember the Fallen,” Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holzberg and four others from the Nariman Chabad House were grieved along with the others murdered by members of a Pakistani terrorist group as part of a four-day spree that left 175 dead and more than 300 injured across the city.
During the program, co-sponsored by the JCC and the American Jewish Committee New Jersey (AJC New Jersey), memorial candles were lit, each representing a site where the terrorism took place. One additional candle was lit by Tsach Saar, deputy consul and acting consul general from the Israeli Consulate in New York, for the approximately 1,200 Israelis killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
“Moments of terrorism break our hearts and shatter our souls,” said AJC New Jersey director Rabbi David Levy. “But moments of community bring us togetherness that fuels us to fight the terrorism in a world where we can live together in peace and our homelands might live together in peace.”
Representatives noted the many ties that bind Israel and India together as democracies and victims of terror. “India will always welcome the Jewish people to our country,” said consul A.K. Vjayakrishnan of the Consulate of India in New York. “We view them as friends and brothers. We were among the first to condemn the attack by Hamas.”
He stressed that “India stands with Israel” in “support and solidarity” and pledged if the terrorists were hoping to drive a wedge between India and Israel that “it will never happen.”
Vjayakrishnan added: “God bless India, God bless Israel and, of course, God bless the United States.”
Saar said the devastating attack has left scars that remain 15 years later, and in addition to a shared victimization by terrorists, other commonalities between India and Israel include shared democratic ideals, a diverse population and a pursuit of peace. He termed that pursuit of peace “a complex journey” and called on the world “to unite against terror.”
“Mumbai exposed to the world the extreme viciousness of Iran,” he noted and the Oct. 7 attacks further spotlighted the “animalistic” actions of terrorists and need to root them out. Saar also emphasized the need to fight the evil of antisemitism, which leads to attacks on Israel.
“Let us remember the lives lost and the resilience of the survivors,” he said. “Together we all can create a world where every individual will unite with respect.”
Michael Feldstein and Raghu Rao, co-chairs of the Hindu-Jewish Coalition of New Jersey, spoke of the shared feeling of sadness and horror. Rao recited a traditional Hindu prayer for the safe return of the Israeli hostages.
Feldstein recalled visiting Mumbai shortly after the attacks, staying at one of the hotels attacked by the terrorists and being overwhelmed by the smell of fresh paint covering the damage. But that was minor compared with a visit to Nariman House, where prayer books in its synagogue were pockmarked with bullet holes.
“Upstairs in the living quarters it was like a war scene with bullet holes everywhere,” said Feldstein, who added that where walls were missing left little doubt the people there were “massacred.” Surviving was the Holzberg’s 2-year-old son Moshe, who was rescued by his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel, who accompanied the boy back to Israel, where she was given honorary citizenship for her heroism and awarded AJC’s Moral Courage Award at its 2018 Global Forum.
Edison Mayor Sam Joshi said the religiously and ethnically mixed township is proof that people of diverse backgrounds can respect each other and called it “a sacred community.” He lamented the rise of antisemitism and terrorism and said he had spoken on a Zoom call shortly after the Oct. 7 attack with the Israeli Consulate.
Despite daily reminders that evil exists in the world he said it is possible to rise above it, adding: “I look at Edison, this sacred community, and know we can make society a better place if we come together.” He added, “If we work together and defeat the hatred, if we can rise above it, those vibrations can reach out across the nation.”.
Other highlights of the program were the singing of a song of peace by Rabbi Vicki Axe of Temple Emanu-El in Edison and recitation of Kaddish for the victims by Rabbi Dovid Dubov, director of the Chabad of Princeton.
Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.