Emails came from my Queens synagogue's listserv concerning the occupation of Nariman House in Mumbai by terrorists. Said to be among the hostages were a young rabbi and his wife, as Nariman House had become a Chabad-Lubavitch House in recent years.
I knew, deep down, there was only one reason why such a place would be a target, and it had nothing to do with what Lubavitch outreach is really all about....but I had to hope a little, especially when I heard that the couple's toddler-age son was snatched away from the scene and carried off to safety.
On Thanksgiving Day, I followed many tweets about the terrorist occupation of several hotels in the city halfway around the world, read a number of real-time, in-Mumbai accounts of the horrors there, and even took great pains to unfollow (and help others unfollow) those who would deliberately spead misinformation and hate at a time when most others simply wanted the truth about what was happening right that second.
It was revealed a few days later that some Israelis were killed in Nariman House, among them Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivkah Holtzberg. It was revealed to me last night that their son Moshe was right there and most likely saw the killing of his parents.
"It's clear that we don't want our Chabad Houses to turn into barricaded forts," said Rabbi Menachem Brod, official Chabad spokesman in Israel. "The whole idea of Chabad is that we are open and accessible to Jews traveling abroad."
The concern has left Israeli officials fending off charges that they should do more to protect the buildings, which serve as outposts for ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture.
"Of course we care, of course we worry, but there's not much we can actually do," said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Not only is it not governmental, it's not even Israeli."
Granted, I've had some insight into some simple safety measures that can be taken to ensure that visitors can't get past the doors of a place without identifying themselves. It's called locked doors, cameras, and an intercom connected to someone who can politely ask who you are and what your business is, then open the doors once you have done those things. I personally think the JCCs here are quite lax in their security measures, and though I've never been to the Chabad House in Metairie or the one at Tulane, I certainly hope those basic security steps will be seriously considered and taken. Because there is still one sick, twisted bottom line ultimately responsible for the senseless death of ultra-Orthodox Lubavitchers who were only there to help other Jews abroad become more observant in their Jewish practices:
"This couple wasn't living in the West Bank. They weren't settlers. They weren't occupying anyone's land. They were killed because they were Jews, simple and plain."
Oh, and for reasons of my own, I find this especially sad that it happened in a place such as Mumbai. The beguiling way in which Maximum City author Suketu Mehta writes about his city in recent days says it all:
Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.
I highly recommend his book on Mumbai. Go, go read.
Update, 7:33 PM: Head to Maitri's for more on how this has affected all of Mumbai, and indeed all of India.