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Orphaned in Mumbai, Moshe Holtzberg celebrates his bar mitzvah

By Yehuda Sugar

(Chabad.org via JNS) Moshe Holtzberg, orphaned in the Mumbai Chabad center massacre that took the lives of his parents 11 years ago this week, was called to the Torah for the first time in his home town of Afula, Israel, on Shabbat and celebrated his bar mitzvah Sunday evening at a gala affair in Kfar Chabad, surrounded by friends and family, including the grandparents who raised him and the nanny who saved his life.

During the celebration, Moshe delivered the classic Chassidic discourse recited at Chabad bar mitzvahs, flanked by his grandparents, who were then hoisted onto the shoulders, along with Moshe, of members of the cheering crowd. Later, smiling ear to ear, Moshe danced to the musical performance of Simche Friedman and was serenaded soulfully by entertainers Motty Steinmetz, Ishay Ribo and Avraham Fried.

Later in the evening, a stirring video was played showing Moshe at the gravesites of his parents on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, voicing a pledge to them to walk in their footsteps.

The couple, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, were murdered along with four of their guests at the Nariman (Chabad) House they directed in terrorist attacks that swept through Mumbai beginning Nov. 26, 2008. More than 170 people in all were killed in the widely publicized attacks that spanned several locations in the city. The bullet-ridden and otherwise thoroughly ravaged multi-story Chabad institution was refurbished and then reopened in 2014 by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Israel and Chaya Kozlovsky in their predecessors’ memory.

Relatives were keeping the festivities mostly private, but made a public request for pictures and stories of the many children who were named for “Gabi” and “Rivky” in the aftermath of their demise, and planned to present a bound volume to Moshe, containing what they receive, as a bar mitzvah gift. “The organizers really appreciate participants’ cooperation and wish nachas [‘pleasure’] and only joy to all,” the family said in a statement.

Moshe has grown up with more visibility than most boys his age due to the widely publicized deaths of his parents in the line of duty and the dramatic story of his own rescue. A two-day siege of the center was witnessed via international cable broadcasts and television.

He was in the limelight again last January when he traveled to Mumbai for the first time since the terrorist attacks, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to help unveil a memorial exhibit honoring the Holtzbergs.

On the occasion of the milestone, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a letter of congratulations, saying: “As you make this important transition and cross a significant landmark in the journey of life, the courage of [nanny] Sandra [Samuel] and prayers of the people of India will continue to bless you for a long, healthy and successful life.”

In addition, he received congratulatory notes from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

In other ways, Moshe has led the life of a typical youngster within the Chabad Chassidic movement in Israel. His days are spent learning Torah, Talmud, halacha and Chassidic texts. He diligently immersed himself in preparations for his bar mitzvah over the past year, as is the custom among most boys inside and outside Chabad circles.

His classmates from the Torah school in Migdal HaEmek, where Moshe studies, traveled in a specially hired bus on Sunday to attend the bar mitzvah party, said Rabbi Asi Harel, a father of one of the boys.

“It took place in Kfar Chabad in the big banquet hall because everything, rightly so, they do for Moshe is big,” he told Chabad.org.

More festivities were planned for Monday afternoon on the plaza of the Western Wall, with more live music, dancing and further celebration.

After the tragedy, Moshe moved to Israel to live with his maternal grandparents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg of Afula, who were joined at the celebration by the bar mitzvah boy’s paternal grandparents, Rabbi Nachman and Freida Holtzberg of New York.

It appears that the bar mitzvah boy, despite his traumatic beginnings, is taking after his father, a two-time elementary-school champion at memorizing sections of the Mishnah and second-place winner of an international Talmudic competition held in Jerusalem during his high school years.

“I don’t know him that well, but I see in shul that he is a very well-behaved and well-educated child,” said Rabbi Eliav Benattar, who co-directs Chabad on Campus in the Jezreel Valley with his wife, Devorah, and lives in Afula. “You can see that he inherited a lot from his parents, who should be remembered with a blessing.”

This article first appeared on the Chabad.org website.

Main Photo: A celebratory bar mitzvah crowd dances with Moshe Holtzberg, orphaned in the Mumbai Chabad center massacre that took the lives of his parents 11 years ago this week. Credit: Chabad.org.

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