Nine years after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which both his parents were killed, Moshe Holtzberg, now 11, returned to visit Chabad House for the first time on Tuesday. “I like my home,” said a tired Moshe after returning to the Taj Mahal Palace hotel post lunch from Chabad House. He told his grandparents who are accompanying him that once he grows up, he “wants to take care of the Chabad house,” commonly referred to as Nariman House which served as a synagogue and an educational center before the attack.
“I will return,” said Moshe dressed in a plain blue shirt, black pants and a traditional kippah on his head. “This visit will be a closure for him. When he left, he had no memories of the house. Now he will have built new memories,” said his uncle, also named Moshe Holtzberg, brother of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg who died in the 2008 terror attack along with wife Rivka and four others in the Chabad House.
Baby Moshe, then two, was rescued by his nanny Sandra Samuel who has also accompanied him on the three-day India trip.
Moshe visited the synagogue, community center and the kitchen of the Nariman house but refrained from taking a look at the fifth-floor flat where he stayed with his parents as a toddler. “It is too emotional for him… He has been preparing himself for this visit. Today, he got a history of what happened here,” said Nachman Holtzberg, his grandfather.
Moshe, his grandmother, Frieda Holtzberg said, is excited at the thought of visiting Colaba, Gateway of India and a few monuments around the city. “If we have time, we want to visit our Chabad House with him in Goa,” she said.
In July 2017 in Israel, Moshe had read a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu about his wish to visit India. “At King David hotel in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Modi invited our PM to India. Right there and then, PM Benjamin Netanyahu told Moshe, ‘You are coming with me on my trip to India,’” uncle Moshe, a real estate dealer in United States, said.
He said: “It is the right place and right time for him to return. This is where his parents sacrificed their lives. In a way he sacrificed his too. His return shows terror will never win. It shows love overpowers hate.” Following Modi’s Israel visit, Moshe was offered a 10-year visa for multiple trips to India. On Tuesday, he was accompanied by not just his maternal and paternal grandparents and nanny Samuel but also at least half a dozen family friends.
His maternal grandfather Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg said that the trip was made possible by the Prime Ministers of both countries. “We are excited to announce the memorial at Chabad house with PM Netanyahu,” Rosenberg said.
Moshe has also prepared a few lines to thank Netanyahu during his visit. The plans for a memorial will be officially announced during PM Netanyahu’s visit to Nariman House on Thursday. The writing in Hebrew and English of Moshe’s aunt, Rabbi Gavriel’s sister, when she taught alphabet to Baby Moshe before 2008 will be put on display in the memorial.
A wall that bears regular markings of Baby Moshe’s height as he grew up in the house is another element in the memorial, his uncle said. “When I visited the building, it wasn’t rebuilt. Now that it is under transition, the legacy continues. My brother and his wife had built a house of peace, a house that united Jews of India. I hope the museum will bring together all cultures,” he said.
Holtzberg added that “it is important to know that justice is delivered and those who organized the attack don’t roam free.” “Our family has nothing against any religion but it is important that perpetrators of this crime are held responsible,” he said. His father Nachman, who was visiting Mumbai for the third time after 2008, added that the house will remain an inextricable part of their lives. “It reminds us of our son and daughter-in-law.” For Moshe, he added, the house brings him closer to his parents and his early life in Mumbai. “He would want to return here when he grows old enough.”