Jewish Community Shocked By Mumbai Attacks

One of the targets in the Mumbai terrorist attacks was a Jewish community center, where at least six hostages were killed. Among the dead are Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, both directors of the center. Antony Korenstein, country director for India with the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, speaks about their work with the Jewish community visiting and living in Mumbai.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

At least six of the victims in Mumbai were killed at a Jewish center run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The two New Yorkers who ran the center, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were among the dead.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee also has an office in Mumbai, and Anthony Korenstein is that group's director for India. He's been in Mumbai throughout this crisis. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Korenstein.

Mr. KORENSTEIN (Director, American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, India): I wish I could say it was my pleasure, but under the circumstances, I'm glad to be able to speak to you from here.

SEABROOK: Tell us, what is the feeling in the Jewish community there today?

Mr. KORENSTEIN: Well, the Jewish community is shocked. India is one of the few countries in the world that can boast millennia-old Jewish presence that has existed with virtually no anti-Semitism. So, this is a community that is used to living in harmony with its neighbors and to being part of the rich social fabric that this country represents.

And yet here for the first time is a Jewish institution that is being attacked. You know, this isn't in Europe, and it's not in Latin America. It's not any of the places where, you know, Jews are used to being attacked. But here in India and for the Jewish community, this is really a shocking event.

SEABROOK: Mr. Korestein, I don't think it's presumptuous to say that most Americans know very little about the Jewish community in India or even that there is one.

Mr. KORENSTEIN: The local Jewish community is really very ancient. It's thousands of years old, and it's centered today mostly in Mumbai. In the Mumbai area, there are 4,500 Jews here. So yes, there is a Jewish community here in India that has existed far from the other centers of Jewish life and has developed a very unique character.

SEABROOK: You live in Israel, is that correct?

Mr. KORENSTEIN: Yes, that's correct.

SEABROOK: You were just visiting India this week, but you knew Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife.

Mr. KORENSTEIN: Yes, I did. I come here, oh, for a week or 10 days every couple of months to oversee the work our organization does. And often, when I would come, I would spend time with Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife at the Chabad center.

Like many other western visitors who would come here, there was a very sort of warm and respectful relationship between our two organizations, even though their focus here in India was more on helping the Israeli travelers and other foreign visitors, and our focus is much more on the local Jewish community.

SEABROOK: What can you tell us about them, the - Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife?

Mr. KORENSTEIN: Well, I think - you know, well, one thing I didn't- that didn't really sink in for me until this whole instance broke and I started reading - would become their obituaries. But here are a couple who are 29 and 28 respectively, very, very young people, who came from thousands of miles away and for all intents and purposes settled here indefinitely, and their purpose was to help provide a home away from home, a Jewish presence, a feeling of Jewish warmth to visitors and others who would find themselves in Mumbai, and that they were able to accomplish this in the few short years they were here is really, really remarkable.

It's all too common to speak of the dead in glowing terms. I think what really says it all about Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg was that they were a couple of whom people spoke glowingly when they were alive. They'll be missed.

SEABROOK: I understand they had a little boy?

Mr. KORENSTEIN: They did. They had a little boy who, thank goodness, was saved by the nanny and is now, I understand, with his grandparents.

SEABROOK: Anthony Korenstein, he's the country director for India for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Sir, thanks very much for speaking with us today.

Mr. KORENSTEIN: Thank you.

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