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Nariman House caught in property dispute

Renovation work stalled as Chabad movement factions battle over rights; matter in court.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
November 19, 2010 1:05:04 am

The Nariman House building in South Mumbai,which became one of the symbols of the global span of the 26/11 terror attacks,has become the subject of a bitter property dispute between apparently warring factions of the ultra-orthodox Jewish movement Chabad Lubavitch.Following a familiar Mumbai trajectory of claims and counter claims for control of the valuable property in Colaba,the five-storey building where Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka were killed during the three-day siege in 2008,is now in the possession of the Receiver of the Bombay High Court.

A large notice announcing this has been pasted at the front of the building,days before the second anniversary of the horrific attacks carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The dispute had reached the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) about two weeks ago,forcing the civic body to stop the renovation work that was going on,following which electricity and water supply to the building were stopped as well.

“The grandparents of Moshe want to renovate the building and restore it to its pre-attack condition,” said a representative of the Rosenbergs,the Israel-based maternal grandparents of the little boy who survived the attack miraculously. “However,other rabbis including Rabbi Yosef Kantor have approached the court in order to stop the renovation.”

The New York-headquartered Chabad Lubavitch had named Rabbi Yosef C Kantor as its official “responsible for the rebuilding effort in Mumbai”. While the movement had begun raising funds from around the world for the rebuilding soon after the attacks,the Rosenbergs’ representatives in Mumbai said that those who raised funds have not parted with any of the money.

They said the renovation work had been undertaken by the ‘Chabad of India Trust’ set up by Gavriel and Rivka in 2005. “The physical possession of the building is with the grandparents,” one representative added. But the official ‘Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund’,launched after 26/11 with a New York address,had named Rivka’s father Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg as well as Kantor,alongside others,in its “Fund Oversight Committee”.

When contacted,Rabbi Motti Seligson of the Chabad movement said in an email reply,“It has come to our attention that the current construction that you have written about has been carried illegally,lacking the proper permits. Our major concern of course is to ensure that all restoration at Nariman House must be done legally and more importantly safely.”

“This is why we have taken immediate action to halt the current construction as well as replace the current construction company. We are currently taking the necessary steps to resume the construction in a legal and safe manner,as soon as legally possible.”

The BMC,meanwhile,issued a stop-work notice after earlier permitting some replastering work and repairs to columns that had suffered serious damage from gunfire and grenades. A senior civic official said one of the warring parties had approached civic officials,following which the civic body thought it prudent to wait for the courts to decide which party is authorised to apply for and obtain repair permissions. “There appear to be two trusts,so we have decided it’s better for a formal order from the high court,” said the official.

With security guards posted at the site stopping even policemen and civic engineers from entering the premises,the BMC has also issued a notice to enter the premises for an inspection.

As recently as October 19,the Chabad Lubavitch movement issued a statement promising that the legacy of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg would be kept alive. While the Chabad House has been,for security reasons,operating out of an undisclosed location since the attacks,the rebuilding of Nariman House was planned and underway,it said. The renovated structure would house a kosher kitchen,a synagogue, a space for functions,a memorial to victims of terror and a separate memorial to Rabbi Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg in what was their personal residence.

The plan included making sure that when Moshe comes of age,Nariman House would be there for him,“should he wish to follow in the footsteps of his parents”.

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