The hasidim of Mumbai

Extremist Muslims lashing out angrily at the West, as leverage on the Hindu majority in India, have slaughtered over 100 people in the Indian city of Mumbai. These people were killed, in classical Islamist terrorist style, for just being who they are. So naturally the Jews were on their list of targets too, and the latest news is that “ten to twenty” Israelis are being held hostage in Mumbai’s Chabad House and a Mumbai hotel.

What’s a Chabad house? CHABAD is the Hebrew acronym for the words chochma, bina and daas — wisdom, understanding and knowledge — which form the basis of the philosophy of these Orthodox Jews, hasidim of the Lubavitch movement (named after a Russian town whence sprung their grand rabbis). Chabad has been controversial among Jews for over half a century, both for important aspects of its philosophy that distinguish it from other Orthodox Jewish approaches and the messianic inclinations of a significant percentage of its adherents regarding the movement’s late Grand Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a multifaceted genius who passed away 14 years ago and who despite his revolutionary leadership did not bring the Redemption.

Antipathy towards Lubavitch, or Chabad, has been intense among non-Lubavitchers among the strictly Orthodox for many years, in fact, and there is very little interaction between this group and the rest of us, even though many — such as myself — were profoundly and positively influenced by them at one time in their lives, frequently as a result of Chabad’s groundbreaking worldwide outreach efforts. Their interest has always been to recapture the spark of Jewishness in every child of the people Israel, though as is our practice not to proselytize outside of this extended family. But as to those within, not a single Jewish soul, they believed, taught and lived, is to be written off. Unfortunately, and ironically, their subculture within the broader strictly Orthodox Jewish subculture has departed so far from the main that, in the main centers of Jewish life Lubavitchers and other strictly orthodox Jews, including other hasidic groups, do not mix.

But today we are all Lubavitchers, all Chabadniks. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg were sent to Mumbai by Lubavitch to do their part to account for the thousands of Jewish souls, many Israeli, doing business, and others seeking (we believe, erroneously) spiritual enlightenment, in this major Indian city. They manned the Chabad House in Mumbai and met the expectation of every Jew who travels the world that in any place where it is likely that more than a handful of Jews might be found, there is a Chabad House (frequently where the Chabad rabbi and his family live) to offer Shabbos (Sabbath) hospitality, kosher food, perhaps even a bed for a few days, a connection to the root of the Jewish world and perhaps a little mashke (straight vodka) and a few hasidic stories more than “thrown in” for inspiration.

The Rabbi and his Wife

The latest report on the status of the Holtzbergs, their place and their persons targeted, as persons such as these have always been, is not encouraging. <Read the rest of this entry>

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