Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

We’re all Chabadniks now

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 27, 2008

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.  (Good roundup here.)  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.  [Update for live reports here.]

The Rabbi and his Wife

The Rabbi and his wife

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, for departing as it has from certain communal and “political” expectations of leaders among both the hasidic and non-hasidic world of strictly Orthodox Jews, and, most recently, for the unfortunate messianic insistences of a significant percentage of its adherents regarding its 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 is perceived to have departed so far from the main that, for most, in the main centers of Jewish life we 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 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.  And though 100 have already died senselessly to feed the rage of the impotent and the failed, you will I hope forgive me for focusing, just as Americans have more interest in the fate of their own brethren in such a tragedy, on that of my extended family members, the Holtzbergs, who extended themselves — as Chabadniks do — to others.  They brought their family to a place far from home in every sense, so that countless others whom they never met but for whom they cared as if it were their own family would feel, themselves, just a little bit less far from home… and, perhaps, would return home … in every sense … tomorrow.

None of the bad news regarding the Holtzbergs as of this writing is of a final nature [UPDATE:  though it is increasingly grim, down only to “unconfirmed” worst-case scenario for the the Holtzbergs] — so, as the Lubavitch spokesman and others have asked, please say Psalms for the Rabbi and his wife, whose Jewish names are Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis, as well as, of course, anyone affected by the tragedy.  That includes all of us.

UPDATE:  Roger Simon, “an agnostic Jew”:

It’s clear the young Lubavitcher couple murdered by the terrorists, Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivka,  were the finest of human beings. They were dedicated to promoting goodness in the world in the deepest spiritual sense. They wished only the best for all humanity and also did their best to encourage it, in fact gave their lives for it.  You don’t have to believe in G-d or even God to understand that.  Their horrifying deaths reminded this agnostic that there is indeed something called evil in the world.

So now what do I do?  What, indeed, do we all do?


37 Responses to “We’re all Chabadniks now”

  1. […] Coleman has posted a piece called “We’re all Chabadniks Now” on his […]

  2. Bob Miller said

    We pray for other Jews as such and as people, regardless of which organization they belong to. That says nothing about our possible agreement or disagreement with the organization.

  3. Josh said

    This is terrible. My thoughts are with their families and all who loved them.

  4. […] RON COLEMAN: We’re All Chabadniks Now. […]

  5. Richard Vail said

    I will read Psalms…ChaBaD via the Aleph Institute was instramental in my conversion to judaism…it was men/women like these who led me back into the fold, though I am not a Lubavitcher, I respect their beliefs.

  6. […] Ron Coleman: “We’re all Chabadniks now.” […]

  7. Jeffersonian said

    May God hold them in His hand and comfort those they left behind. May He also do His justice upon those who took their lives.

  8. Bour3 said

    I know next to nothing about Judaism and less of Islam, and to be frank, make a regrettably deplorable Christian, but regarding other people’s religions, whenever I read posts like this one I’m drawn closer to the former and farther from the latter.

    Ron Coleman, thank you for this message.

  9. mordechai850 said

    We should just make sure too that we’re not “bandwaggoners.” That is, if the baseline response is love for one’s fellow Jew, that is legitimate and beautiful for cutting through all the noise of purposeless and meaningless free-hate. However, if those who routinely debase and deride an entire group find sudden enlightenment and identification with the group which is temporary and prone to reversal, then please, use this sad event as an opportunity for repentence, and promise in your heart that in the future, you won’t virulently hate, silently or out of your mouth, entire groups of Jews.

    Agreed! — RDC

  10. Hucklebuck said

    Never to forget.
    Never to forgive.

  11. exception said

    I’m not in NYC anymore, and it’s not going to seem like Christmas without the Mitzvah Tanks.

  12. Brian Macker said

    Sorry, I’m not going to join the Chabadnik bandwagon just because some crazy Muslim’s are killing some of their members. I didn’t do it when Sunni’s were massacring Shiites nor vice versa. It’s not a good reason to support and ideology. Members of incorrect ideologies being murdered by quite evil members of other ideologies happens all the time. If I were to use your standard I’d have to support many conflicting and warring ideologies concurrently.

    That’s not happening. Chabad is just another crazy fundamentalist religious group as far as I can tell.

    I feel sorry for the individuals murdered in this incident, and support the capture and punishment of their murderers. That doesn’t mean I need to swallow their irrational beliefs. I’m not a Chabadnik and never will be.

  13. spindok said

    I live in a suburb of a large midwestern US city. We are somewhat set apart from the more major Jewish areas and our population are very much non-orthodox and a sizable (I think >8%) minority well integrated into the community where we live.

    Our Chabad center is the most beloved Jewish institution here.

    You just know when you are there what this is about. You are accepted always and welcome for whatever you want to be involved with, or nothing else if you want. This is not some sort of marketing scheme and I do know enough to understand (Telshe? Brisk? Ner Talmid? been there).

    Somewhere Chabad has made a shift since their Rebbi passed and the lineage is no more. I think that most now understand that the Messiah was always here. We just need to find that.

    May the berieved find peace. May the almighty assist our security forces in bringing and end to the evil in our midst. Shalom Rav…


  14. Dandaman said

    “I’m not a Chabadnik and never will be.” Quite true, Brian. You failed the entrance exam. You’re not Jewish.

  15. Xiaoding said

    It seems a little Jew-centric.

    I would much rather see “We Are All Indians Now”. Really. Then talk all you want about the people you know, etc. But seeing the title, not knowing the background of the writer, where he is coming from, etc.,…just seems a little insensitive. It happened in INDIA.

  16. […] Here is a good explanation of what Chabad House is, and what Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were doing for the Jewish community. […]

  17. Octus said

    I struggle to grow spiritually in a conservative Christian congregation. The chance of me converting to another religion is very slim. However, I am saddened as a human who respects the spiritual struggle of other humans. The source of my sorrow is the violent shortning of the lives of people who, as part of their beliefs, brought shelter, food, community and kindness to those who sought it. I pray that those who mourn will be comforted and the spirit of giving manifest by those who died will spread throughout the world. Like a cancer, this ignorant misguided violence (especially under the banner of religion) must be removed from among us. Shalom

  18. Dan Collins said

    We mourn all the dead, all the bereaved, Xiaoding. But these bastards have got a special death wish for Jews, Americans and Brits, as well as the modernity that Mumbai represents. Those random Indians? Sorry, collateral damage.

    I’ll tell you what. How about we’re all Tibetans, now? You don’t like it? Too bad.

  19. Jeffersonian said

    I think Dan put his finger squarely on the issue. In a city of 15 million people, the terrorists wanted to make sure they killed off any accessible Jew they could lay their filthy hands on, even if they could only get to five of them. I’m not Jewish. I’m not going to convert to Judaism. But I see this sort of thing on the heels of bombings, shootings, stabbings, rocketings, kidnappings, etc. of Jews – for the simple reason of being Jewish – and it’s not hard to understand what the impulse is that underlies it. I’m not prepared to stand around and wring my hands as “never again” mutates into “well, just one more time.”

  20. Dan said

    Aren’t these the types of Jews liberal/secular Jews so easily mock and accused of screwing up the peace process by encouraging settlements?

    Amazing how the Jews in name only suddenly weep crocodile tears for the true believers when they are slaughtered like sheep.

    Actually, Dan, I’m not aware of any particular involvement by Lubavitcher hasidim in settlements in the West Bank. I could be wrong about that. But Religious Zionists are more typically the religious Jews involved in settlements and they are not haredim. — RDC

  21. Xiaoding said

    Dan: Tibetans? What?

    Those collateral Indians are fighting and dying to save those important Jews. How about a little thanks for the brave soldiers of the Indian armed forces?

  22. Mimi said

    This is difficult for me to see, because, though I am secular, my children are Chabad Rabbis and ‘Rabbi-ettes’. They have been all over the world (London, Venice, Russia, Israel, Brazil) to study, work and volunteer. So when I see the pix of the late young rabbi and his wife, it could be my sons and their wives… Its hard to think about…

    May God give strength to the children and families of the Holtzbergs.

  23. Calling them “extremists” or “militants” and referring to them as “angry” justifies their views if not their actions. They are inhuman Terrorists. If you want to stop them, you have to go after their families, their tribes, and the madrassas that spawn them.

  24. […] Yesterday, I saw several blogs noting, with derision, that Arab (i.e., Muslim) media had not deigned to report on the murder of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg in Mumbai. An Orthodox Jew who went to India to serve the needs of both Jewish foreigners doing business in Mumbai and the indigenous Jewish population, Holtzberg was from the very conservative Lubavicher or ‘Chabad’ movement. […]

  25. Richard Vail said

    John (23) is right…but PC bureaucrats will not allow that to happen. What will occur is that we will “discuss the issue” ad infinitum, but will DO nothing, because most of the Madrassahs are located in Pakistan/Indonesia, where the gov’t unofficially supports them.

    Additionally, because the Pakistani intelligence agency stands sponsor to the Taliban and leaks info to them like a sieve, it is unlikely that those seeking the destruction of Al Qiada (sp?) will be able to catch them, much less question them. As a former US Marine (early 80’s), I would love to see targeted raids in the the “Frontier Territories” of Pakistan that seek to eliminate those new training camps for terrorists.

    I think that what I find most surprising is that something similar hasn’t occured in the US w/our porous borders…I have often wondered…and prayed, “..Baruch HaShem, not here!” But it pains me to see this happen any where.

    I think that the west needs to begin specifically targeting those who plan and execute such attacks…a JDAM or Maverick missile would do wonders to discourage this sort of thing. In the 1980’s in Lebanon, a small group kidnapped some Soviet citizens…the Soviets found out which tribe’s members were responsible. They went in rather quietly and exterminated an entire village…the hostages were freed, it NEVER happened again. There’s a message there somewhere.

  26. spindok said


    The main target of these despicable acts were ordinary people of India.

    The courage, not only of the security forces, but of ordinary individuals, should never be forgotten and those stories are coming out now.

    I spoke with a collegue yesterday. He is a Sikh and I asked him if there were any personal connections to what was happenening in Mumbai. He had been a friend of the Hotel Manager at the Taj hotel who was slaughtered along with his family in their suite. We lowered our eyes together in the elevator as we went to our destinations.

    These might seem as small things but they are not.

    Whatever has happened I do not think that what was intended by the terrorists will occur. In the end we are brought closer together as we suffer together.

    Yes we are all Indians now. We always were. Rabbi Holzberg could have said it better if he were still here. This frail looking man and his young wife knew that they were in an outpost reuniting the fragile threads and sparks that bind all human beings.

    Please do not be put off as we say our own Kaddish, the prayer for the departed. It is not meant to be exclusive yet each has their own tradition and that is to be respected as now the survivors must deal with their own grief.


  27. Xioding, a million other blogs are out there calling for this, that and the other reaction. I had two motivations. The first was to explain what Chabad is, because I realized many people were being exposed to the word for the first time, and I foresaw the opportunity for a lot of misunderstanding to be promulgated. I realized I had the capacity to explain this well based on first-hand experience and that if I swung things right I could get a few people to read what I had to say.

    Secondly, in my lead I wrote what is my little bit of semi-original thought, and it is very much of universal interest, I think: That the terrorists “leveraged” Western victims in Mumbai. I used that term because 100 dead Westerners will have more impact in the West than probably hundreds of dead Indians. That is not how it ought to be, but look at what goes on in Africa, to the shock and horror of just about no one in America. Usually our thoughts are, if we notice such stories at all, “Well, those people are always killing each other over there.” It may be a less than ideal reaction, morally speaking, but I believe I am accurately describing the human condition, as I wrote last year when considering the “never again” myth.

    The terrorists know that, and realized that they could more likely “leverage” Western shock and horror — the natural tendency to identify with people more like oneself — into a much larger terror effect on the Hindu majority and government than otherwise.

    By the time I got through the first two motivations, Xioding, a third, more personal one emerged, and that is the one no blogger need ever apologize for: Writing about his personal reaction to or experience of an event of significance beyond himself. Indeed, I tried to anticipate your reaction when I wrote,

    And though 100 have already died senselessly to feed the rage of the impotent and the failed, you will I hope forgive me for focusing, just as Americans have more interest in the fate of their own brethren in such a tragedy, on that of my extended family members, the Holtzbergs, who extended themselves — as Chabadniks do — to others.

    I don’t know how more apologetic I could get than that, Xioding.

  28. […] Comments Ron Coleman on We’re all Chabadniks nowspindok on We’re all Chabadniks nowRichard Vail on We’re all […]

  29. mordechai850 said

    I think Ron Coleman’s point was, to focus on one group that some of us can identify with NOT to the exclusion of the tragedy that affected everyone there in Mumbai. I don’t think his piece was exclusionary. For the antisemites that want to pretend that his piece was exclusionary, and ethnocentric to the disregard of fellow humans, you are doing what antisemites always do, disregarding logic, and creating arguments that are hastily pulled out of you know where, with a blatant disregard for the facts. That’s called Propoganda. And it’s the mark of a stupid person.

  30. […] Here is a good explanation of what Chabad House is, and what Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were doing for the Jewish community. […]

  31. […] today, we are all […]

  32. Fern said

    Ron–It’s too bad that you qualified your statement of solidarity with your dispute over some Chabadnik’s ideology. Otherwise, you expressed a nice sentiment here.

    Thanks, Fern. I think it would have been far more “too bad” if I had pretended there was no such thing as reality or that I was either stupid or, I don’t know, brainwashed or something.

    I opted for intellectual honesty, which I believed in this case would be particularly appropriate as a backdrop to my expression, not only of sympathy, but admiration. Too bad not everyone gets that.

    I guess all of us will decide to utter a negative thought when we think it’s appropriate! — RDC

  33. Fern said

    Xioding–I’m missing your logic. How does expressing sorrow over the tragic death of one couple mean that Ron does not also feel similar sorrow over the deaths of the Indians (and non-Jewish Americans, Israelis and Brits) who also died in this terrorist attack? I don’t know Ron personally, but I am pretty sure he is not as simplistic as you are making him out to be. I am sure he is capable of feeling more than one emotion at a time.

    People really can’t wrap their minds around a tragedy like this, and they look for a way to connect on a human level to try and comprehend what exactly just happened. Just because many Jews find such a connection to the Holtzbergs doesn’t mean that we don’t feel compassion for the other people involved.

    It’s just like after 9/11, those of us who didn’t live in the areas directly attacked racked our brains for people we knew who did live in those areas so that we could somehow make a connection on a human level to what happened. For weeks conversations centered around a friend who knew someone who was in this building or who was on such and such plane. We couldn’t comprehend 3,000 people being murdered in one fell swoop, but we could comprehend the terror, horror, sorrow, etc that individuals felt. The big picture is often too horrible to understand and impossible for most people to identify with.

  34. Fern, I am not simplistic, but I am not going to pretend that I am feeling sorrow over the deaths of the Indian victims to the extent that I am about the Jewish victims, as I explained in the very beginning — and look, some people simply will not read or engage the words, they simply want to see what they want in order to make their own point. I don’t apologize for merely admitting what everyone knows is true: We care more about people who are closer to us, whether by nationality, cultural or religious affinity or blood.

    Perhaps Xiodong experiences genuine heartrending pain every time an Israeli is blown up on a bus or an American soldier is picked off in Iraq, though. Maybe I’m wrong and humanity is more like him and less like me?

    Even then it would really have little to do with the main point of what I wrote here.

  35. […] By: The Razor – Likelihood of Success – We’re All Chabadniks Now Share and […]

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  37. […] Fourth place with 2/3 point – Likelihood of Success – We’re All Chabadniks Now […]

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