26/11 10th anniversary: From terror to hope

A few terrorists wrought such pain. Imagine what kindness of many can achieve.

November 26, 2018 10:34:19 am

The 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks brings to our minds pain, reopening the wounds of a dreadful night — 164 dead, hundreds wounded, and a city changed forever by an act of terrorism. It was on this day that the Jewish world lost its shining stars. Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, the founders and co-directors of the Jewish Centre in Mumbai, were murdered in cold blood, along with four fellow Jews, at the Chabad-Lubavitch Centre in Nariman House.

Terrorism is not new to us Jews. Our history is one of persecution. From the pogroms in Russia to the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust, time and again we were brutally attacked. And little has changed since. Just a few weeks ago, 11 Jews were murdered as they gathered to pray on Shabbat, simply because they were Jewish. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism in the US rose by 57 per cent in 2017. The world may be surprised, but to us, it’s nothing new.

Our response has always been to face down evil and never cower. They want us to flee, so we stay, and we build. They want us to cower, so we stand proudly. They want us to disappear, so we remain more visible than ever. As Jewry rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson, of righteous memory, the most influential rabbi in modern history and the inspiration for the Jewish Centre in Mumbai and thousands of such centres around the globe, guided Jews through the aftermath of horrific persecution. Time and again, Jews looked to the Rebbe for guidance in the face of terror.

One such time occurred in April 1956. A group of Arab fidayeen — terrorists — attacked the Kfar Chabad village near Tel Aviv, leaving five young students and their teacher dead in the Beit Sefer Lemelacha — a vocational school. The village — and the entire country — was shocked and horrified. The Hassidic inhabitants of the village felt their existence was threatened. They wanted to leave for bigger cities and safety in numbers.’

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The Rebbe’s message was clear: They want to scare you away, so stay strong and build right where you are. They attacked you for being Jewish, so re-dedicate yourselves to the very faith you were attacked on account of. Thirty days after the attack, the cornerstone was laid for a new building to house the vocational school, which would house its new printing school named for the victims, right in Kfar Chabad. Today, the village has grown exponentially and continues to thrive.

After a 1960 earthquake devastated the city of Agadir, Morocco, killing 12,000 people, the Rebbe said these memorable words: “In the place of one [learning] centre, there must be numerous ones, and in the place of one student there must be many more.”
We respond to destruction by building twice over. We respond to darkness by increasing in light. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides wrote that we should view the world as being equally balanced with positive and negative deeds. A single deed can tip the global scale to the side of positivity, bringing redemption to the world.

As individuals, we may feel overwhelmed by the evil that may surround us. We wonder what good one deed can accomplish in the face of overwhelming negativity. We feed one starving child, while countless millions go hungry. We greet a neighbour with kind words, while so many people face hatred and abuse. But it is that single good deed that may tip the scale for the entire world.

We transform pain into action. We transform tears into growth. Each one of us can and should fight darkness by bringing more light into the world. As we mark the 10-yearanniversary of our city’s darkest time, let us bring more light into our lives and the lives of those around us. Spend a few minutes helping a friend. Carry someone’s grocery bags home. Give a few rupees to charity. If the actions of just a few evil people make such an impact, imagine the magnitude of so many more people united in doing good.

The writer, a rabbi, is head of the Chabad Centre of Mumbai.