Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Mumbai Memorial 30 Days - in Jerusalem Israel

Strictly speaking, this evening marks the 30 days since the tragic event in Mumbai where 2 Chabad Shlichim together with 4 other holy Jews (HYK) who were visiting the Chabad house – were brutally murdered in cold blood.

To commemorate the Shloshim period – 30 days since the death of a Jew (a stage which marks another ascension and change in the soul as it ascends above) – a special memorial was held last night in Jerusalem. The main speaker was Professor Velvel Greene, a professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, who is also director of the Jacobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics. He was an original participant in NASA's Exobiology program, and has published more than 90 scientific papers, and has lectured and consulted around the world.

He was fortunate enough to have a special relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and spoke to him on numerous occasions. A simple Google search will yield enough results to learn more about this special man including a video of him being interviewed about his relationship with the Rebbe.

Professor Greene was introduced to the audience by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton of Kfar Chabad and well known for the wonderful stories he tells. After talking, a movie was shown about the lives of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg as well as the “guests.” The evening ended with Rabbi Bolton playing guitar and singing songs of encouragement.

What would be the focus of Professor Greene’s talk? Chabad of course… and Space! I suppose they’re really both related. They’re both in a “space” of their own, everyone seems to look in that direction in wonderment, and it seems only the truly selected few actually go out and see what it’s all about. Don’t take my word for it though. Professor Greene shared a wonderful story to get things going.

Levi – a new recruit to the Israel paratroopers division was all set on learning the art of jumping out of a plane. Imagine that – as the Professor said… jumping out of a perfectly good plane! Well, it took many months of preparation for Levi, and he was ready for anything! Just like the other recruits, Levi was up at 3am every morning to get going for a gruelling day of training. Running…jogging… carrying heavy equipment on his back – for miles on end (leading nowhere of course!) but all there for the purpose of increasing stamina, making the body a strong vessel to deal with the great achievement of being able to leap from an airplane and head earthwards at a frighteningly fast speed (and hopefully having enough strength to pull a simple cord!)

The big day eventually arrived, and the soldiers were ready for the big jump! They had practised this moment on the ground for months, psyching themselves up for the leap where there simply wouldn’t be any handles to hold onto. Things worked quite basically with the soldiers lined up in the plane, each ready to exit at his own appointed time. Of course, things moved fast, and the Major began calling each one’s name out, and as he did so, the soldier stepped forwards to the plane’s opening and within less than a second, found himself heading straight for the ground! The Major began with each soldier. “Number 1… Reuven, Number 2, Shimon, Number 3, Yehuda… Number 6 – LEVI”. Suddenly Levi froze, unable to move. He just couldn’t do it.

His Major was a little upset, after all, the recruits had spent months in preparation. What could be easier, taking a jump (and a leap of faith!) or carrying 30 kilograms of equipment on one’s back for 60 miles – every single day?! But, every one gets a second chance, and so a few days later, they were up in the airplane again with the same process repeating itself. Once again, Levi froze in his tracks, unable to move! What would become of poor Levi?! But, there’s always yet another chance, and a few days later, the same event happened. Everyone else jumping, with Levi unable to move. It was clear, Levi simply wasn’t going to become a jumper at any rate!

His Major turned towards Levi and asked him, “Tell me son, you’ve worked so hard to get here, and you seem to be enjoying watching everyone else jump. You even look all fired up yourself. Why is it then that you’ve chosen to be with all these people, when you know that you yourself are never going to jump?” Levi smiled a warm smile and explained, ‘You’re right, I have no desire to jump whatsoever, and it’s true, I really do enjoy watching all these paratroopers jump. And I’m even willing to go through all the training just to be here with them all. You see, it’s like this. I myself may not be willing to jump, but if nothing else, I’d love to be around those that are and do!”

Such, explained the Professor, is the case with Chabad. The world and world Jewry constantly talk of them, some who stand at a distance, and others who stand right by them. When asked why they only stand by, they answer because they wish to at least be close to the jumpers – even if they don’t jump themselves!

Perhaps it’s true. There are those who think that paratroopers are lunatics for wanting to jump out of perfectly good planes. There are those who are willing enough to invest some energy and time into finding out more about how they actually work – even if they aren’t prepared to take the jump themselves. And then of course, there are “the real thing!” – those who are prepared to take the jump.

The world watches the jumpers. They’re not particularly interested in those that stand by them – although they seem to get some publicity too. And then there are the rest of those not willing to even question what a plane does so high in the air, let alone wonder why people would ever jump out of it!

The Chabad Shlichim in Mumbai were of course the ultimate – Elite Olympic jumpers! World attention was brought to them at that time – and world attention has always been upon them – even if nobody knows of this.

As the Hagaddah of Pesach says clearly “In every generation they seek to destroy us but the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from their hands.” Even when nobody knows of the plotters, their eyes are constantly upon us – the jumpers in particular. Those 4 Jews that were murdered Al Kiddush Hashem together with them knew this too. Much like gravity pulls something with mass downwards without it having a choice to it’s being pulled down, so too those who seek truth find themselves pulled to it ever stronger – eventually finding themselves to be the very jumpers they had once only but looked at.

It may seem like the world has already turned away from the horrors just 4 weeks ago, but the truth is that things are no different. Each and every day the world eyes the jumpers, looking for opportunities to thwart their plans.

Everything is created with it’s exact opposite – says the wisest of all men – King Solomon. If there is purity, there must be impurity too. Just as there are those who awaken each morning to take the jump, to do good, and to bring kindness into the world, so too does there awaken each morning, men filled with the most evil of intentions to do everything possible to make sure those parachutes don’t open…

Those who left us should serve to be examples to each of us to realise that each day we are given the opportunity to choose who we wish to be.

Do we wish not to think of planes and paratrooping? Do we wish to train ourselves so that we can at least be with them and watch them – even if we just can’t take the jump ourselves? Or… do we wish to train ourselves well enough to be the jumpers themselves?

If you want to learn more about what it means to jump, contact Rav Eliyahu directly and become a part of the team. rebeliyahu@gmail.com


One can never understand G-d’s ways. Checking the news, I see today that 4 year old, Dov Ber Holtzberg – the eldest son of Rabbi Gabi and Rivky was Niftar (died) today. Not much was said about him at the time of the tragedy. He was not well and had been in a hospital in Israel. His funeral was held at midday at the Mount of Olives. This, just one day before the actual 30 complete days of mourning for his parents.

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