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Chabad House
Monday, March 1

The wall immediately across the way should have prepared me for what I would see inside. The bullet-ridden facade with its stark condemnation of the attacks that took place there on November 26th, 2008, was a mirror image to the flimsy white piece of paper that barely hung on the wall across from it in front of the Chabad house informing visitors that Chabad Mumbai was temporarily operating at another location.

Four guards watched us carefully as we were met by a member of the Indian Jewish community outside the entrance to the building and given a brief overview of how the Jewish community responded to the terrible events that happened there. Shortly thereafter we were met by some Chabad representatives newly off the airplane from Canada just a few days earlier.

With no permanent Chabad rabbis in place in Mumbai since the attacks, a rotating cycle of willing volunteers come to hold down the fort for a couple of weeks or months at a time before a new Rabbi comes to make Mumbai home.
As the new recruits led us up the stairs to give us the play-by-play of events that took place on 26-11 (the widely-used and all-encompassing title of the Mumbai attacks, much like our 9-11), it was clear that, although these volunteers were not physically there to witness the events they were speaking about, they were schooled very quickly upon their arrival on every detail of the tragedy in order to pass on every memory to each visitor that comes through.

They walked us floor to floor recalling who was hiding where and when, pointing out who was shot where, and recounting how this person managed to escape. They painted a picture for us of who was sleeping where, who was eating in one room, and who was praying in another. At some point the descriptions were too graphic and I peeled away from the group to let my eyes tell me as much as I needed to know.

I felt guilty taking pictures of what seemed to be such hallowed ground. And yet, it seemed from our hosts that they urged us to take in every detail so as not to forget and to pass on to the world what they consider the martyrdom to have occurred there. So I walked from room to room taking note - mostly of how the bullets holes seemed to be everywhere - the floor, the walls, the ceilings. Inescapable.

The cheery, bright blue of baby Moishe’s room mocked the viewer who knew all too well what atrocities took place just feet away.

Next door, my heart skipped a beat as I saw the collection of shoes of Moishe’s parents, the revered Rabbi and his wife, still lined up in a messy arrangement on their shoe tree in the corner of their room. Untouched and now collecting dust. I couldn’t bring myself to snap the shot. As we made our way to the top floor and on to the roof, it was hard to imagine the police snipers exchanging fire with the attackers in what seemed like such a normal, residential neighborhood.

It was remarkable that the Chabad house, up until 26-11, existed so easily and peacefully among its Indian neighbors, much like, as we had been learning, how the larger Jewish Indian community exists throughout India.

As our Chabad volunteers kept reminding us about the sacrifice of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, in addition to the 4 others who perished in the House, I had to remind myself that this was a tragedy for all of India and not just the Jews.

Over 164 were killed throughout Mumbai overall. And yet, as we stood back on the bottom floor being shown pictures of the Chabad victims and lighting candles in their memory, it was hard not to feel the weight and palpable sadness that the attack symbolized for us as Jews.

Our tour guides had dutifully done their job of leaving us with an imprint of the horror that took place there — the image of an empty baby swing, sitting innocently in its place amongst the rubble, had been seared into my memory.

Sarah Silverman


I was eager to visit the Chabad House in Mumbai. Before my trip, many of my friends asked me if we were going to India in order to commemorate the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists, and I told them that that was only part of it. Of course, being in India one year after the attacks, it was important to visit the places that were affected and where innocent people were killed, and to show that terrorism did not deter Americans from coming to India.

We therefore went to the Taj Hotel, the Gateway of India, and the Chabad House. Seeing the Chabad House was truly moving -- those who run it have not changed a thing since 26/11. The family's belongings, the hangings on the wall, the toys -- nothing has moved. There are bullet holes everywhere and an eeriness on every floor.

Chabad has now built a temporary home in a new, safer location. But witnessing the aftermath of this tragedy was not the only reason we traveled halfway around the world. We wanted to learn about and support the Jewish community. We wanted to promote the U.S.-India-Israel relationship. We wanted to meet with people in the media, technology, political, non-profit, think tank, and education fields. We wanted to see the country's many beautiful, historic sites. It is important to mourn the victims of the attacks, to live by the phrase "Never Again", and to continue to support Indian democracy by visiting this beautiful country.

Naomi Reinharz

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