Rabbi and wife from Brooklyn killed in Mumbai
(AP) An ultra-orthodox Jewish group based in Brooklyn confirmed Friday that a New York rabbi and his wife were among the dead in a series of terrorist attacks in India that have claimed more than 150 lives.
In response to the Mumbai attacks, New York City police beefed up patrols around large hotels and Jewish centers, including the Lubavitcher headquarters, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
"This is indeed a very sad day," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a news conference. "It is a reminder to all of us just how connected we are."
The department already was on alert because of a warning earlier this week of a possible al-Qaida plot to strike the city's rail systems over the holidays.
"I assure you that here in New York City, we are resolved to be vigilant," Kelly said.Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, who ran the Chabad-Lubavitch movement's local headquarters in Mumbai, India, were killed during a hostage standoff at the center, said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the movement.
The center was one of 10 sites attacked beginning Wednesday.
The couple's toddler son, Moshe Holtzberg, was rescued Thursday by an employee and is now with his grandparents. A second son, who was ailing, was with relatives in Israel when the attack occurred.
"Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.
"As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started."
Members of the movement gathered at the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters Friday hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath to pray for the families of the dead. One of the group's leaders, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, spoke at a news conference.
"We express deeply heartfelt condolences to the parents and family of this beautiful young couple and to the family and loved ones of each of those who have been so brutally murdered," said Krinsky, calling the attack on the Jewish center a "senseless, barbaric act."
The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the local Jewish community. The two ran a synagogue, offering religious instruction and helping people dealing with drug addiction and poverty, Kotlarsky said.
Holtzberg "was the finest and nicest gentleman that you can imagine," a weeping Kotlarsky said at the news conference. "You never saw him without a smile . . . he was always cheerful and greeted everyone pleasantly . . . a real mensch."
Gavriel Holtzberg's last known phone call was to the Israeli consulate to report that gunmen were in his house, the group's leaders in Brooklyn said. In the middle of the conversation, the line went dead.
Twelve hours after gunmen stormed the center Wednesday, Sandra Samuel, a cook at the center, heard little Moshe's cries outside the room in which she had barricaded herself. She opened the door, grabbed the toddler and ran outside with another center worker.
The little boy's pants were soaked with blood, and Samuel said she saw four people lying on the floor as she fled.
Krinsky said the boy will turn 2 on Saturday. "Today, he became an orphan," he said.
Authorities said three other hostages and two gunmen were also killed but they weren't immediately identified.
Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with his parents when he was nine. He had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. Rivkah Holtzberg, 28, was a native of Afula, Israel. The couple had lived in New York before going to India.
The Lubavitchers were one of many Hasidic groups that were uprooted from Eastern Europe by the Holocaust and came to the United States.
They became the most outward-looking of the ultrareligious groups, constructing giant Hanukkah menorahs in public places, proselytizing among less pious Jews and building Chabad centers from Sao Paulo to Bangkok.
The once-tiny sect has swelled in number and influence.
Estimates of followers vary widely, ranging from the tens of thousands to a million or more. About 4,000 full-time emissary families direct more than 3,300 institutions around the world.