It takes time to recover, if that is even the right word, from any loss, and even more so when the loss is a violent one. That is one reason why Jewish tradition, at least as practiced in most communities, holds off a year before placing a marker at the grave of the departed.
It takes time to figure out what remains standing for us, what memories and teachings are rock-solid in the way the gravestone is. And in the course of that year we really have the opportunity to address that question and figure out our answers. It actually makes a great deal of sense.
So on the one year anniversary of the attacks in Mumbai, I find myself thinking about the lasting lessons and durable memories of that horror. Are there any life-affirming teachings to emerge, practices to emulate from those we lost and those who are closest to them? For me, the answer came, at least in part, from the images and stories of Moshe Holtzberg’s just-celebrated third birthday.
Moshe Holtzberg was not quite two years old when his nanny, Sandra Samuel spirited him out of the room in which his parents, Rivkah and Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg of blessed memory, were murdered. Risking both of their lives, but knowing that there was no choice, Samuel escaped and both were saved. Almost one year later, the question of how to celebrate the orphan’s third birthday arose.
The answer given by his family and community can inspire us all. It is among the most beautiful and durable headstones which could ever be placed at the grave of any loved one. What it boils down to is three simple things:
First, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, (the 19th century spiritual giant who was himself rooted in the same Lubavitch tradition in which Moshe and his family are rooted) in the face of death, tears and hate, bring life, laughter and love.
Second, remember that the biggest tasks in life are bigger than any of us alone, but if we keep at it in the face of every tragedy, great things will happen.
Third, never allow a single person to suffer alone and trust that strangers can become family when they are brought together by compassion and caring.
Just look at this picture and read these comments from the birthday party held at Kfar Chabad, the community in Israel which is now Moshe’s home. And before you do, let me confess that the final quote made me cry, and I kind of hope that it does the same to you. But I promise that they will be tears with as much joy about life as anything else.
Rabbi Rosenberg, Rivkah’s father, reminded the guests that the evening was above all a thanksgiving meal for the rescue of Moshe. He and Rabbi Holtzberg, Gavriel’s father, publicly thanked Samuel for her courageous rescue of their grandson and lauded her righteousness.
“Moshe was both a witness to the events in Mumbai and rescued from the fire,” said Rabbi Holtzberg. He expressed his hope that that his grandson Moshe would grow up to be an emissary like his parents, and one day take up their unfinished work in Mumbai.
“Gavriel and Rivkah brought Redemption to the world by inspiring us to be united. Over 500 children have been named for them, many institutions, and thousands upon thousands of private acts of goodness have been inspired by and dedicated to their memory.”
Rabbi Rosenberg also announced the anticipated opening of the Good Deed Inn, an educational and hospitality center in Afula to be created in the slain young couple’s memory. It will include activities for special-needs children and also serve as a stopping off place for Israelis on their way to hiking trips in Israel’s north.
“Memorial ceremonies are usually thought to elevate the souls of the departed,” said Moshe’s great uncle, Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman who heads the Midgal Ohr network of educational Institutions, “But Rivkah and Gavriel have elevated our souls tonight.”