Harvard Remembers Rabbi


Just 12 weeks ago, Peter N. Ganong ’09 paid his second visit in two years to the Chabad House in Mumbai, where he enjoyed a warm Sabbath meal and services. The atmosphere was exceptionally welcoming: the floor was covered with toys that belonged to the toddler of a young rabbi, Rabbi Gavriel, and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg.

The couple was killed in last week’s terrorist assault on Mumbai, which left 171 people dead.

Last night at Harvard’s Chabad House, a community center for the Jewish Orthodox movement, Ganong delivered an emotional eulogy.

“He and Rivka ran a home away from home with the most devoted followers,” he said in his remarks.

Ganong, who describes himself as an observant Jew, traveled and conducted research on economic development in India for the last two summers.

Ganong said that he enjoyed visiting Chabad houses on Shabbat, where he could attend services and connect with the local Jewish community.

“These are outstanding places,” he said. “There is a network that makes it possible to be an observant Jew anywhere in the world.”

Ganong is among an increasing number of people who believe the Chabad House attacks were carefully targeted.

He remembered Mumbai’s Chabad House as being extremely inaccessible—it sits in a narrow, dark alleyway in the midst of the vast tourist city.

Ganong is one of at least half a dozen Harvard students who visited Mumbai and came in contact with Rabbi Gavriel and his family.

Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, the director of Chabad at Harvard, frequently connected students to the Chabad in Mumbai and, as a result, got to know Rabbi Gavriel personally.

“They embraced and loved every person they came in contact with on any level,” Zarchi said.

He described the family as unfailingly generous people who were equally willing to provide spiritual guidance as they were to aid a traveler who had lost a passport, missed a flight, or just needed a meal or a place to stay. “They were there to serve,” he said.

Zarchi said that after he first heard about the Mumbai attacks he and other Chabad members immediately thought about their brethren in the city.

Soon after, the news from the city began to trickle in, and both Rabbi Gavriel and Holtzbergand were unreachable by cell phone.

In the midst of the crisis, Rabbi Gavriel had made a final call to the Israeli Embassy and said in Hebrew, “The situation is not good.”

Students and faculty members gathered last night to mourn the rabbi and his wife, as well as the nearly 200 other victims of the terrorist attacks last Wednesday.

The event, co-sponsored by Chabad and Hillel, was the second in two days held in honor of the victims.

Over 100 people gathered in Longfellow Hall on Monday night to grieve those who had died and to discuss how Harvard can help the victims and their families and promote peace.

That event was sponsored by the South Asian Initiative at Harvard.

Anjali Adukia, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who helped coordinate the event, said that she was especially encouraged by the diversity of the turnout, particularly the large presence of Pakistani students.

“You could never walk away from an event like this and say that Indians and Pakistanis don’t care about each other,” she said. “At the end of the day, we are just two trees that formed at the same base.”

Adukia has already set up an online group to coordinate relief efforts, including a fundraiser for murdered hotel workers who were the “breadwinners” for their families.

Executive Director of Harvard Hillel Bernard Steinberg urged students to participate in a vigil tomorrow night at 10:30 p.m. at Memorial Church, led by the South Asian Association. “When students organize grassroots events, that is Harvard,” he said.


The Dec. 3 story, "Harvard Remembers Rabbi," misspelled the name of the rabbi; his surname is Holtzberg, not Holtzbergand.