The top two floors of his former home still pocked with bullet holes and memories of a deadly four-day siege, Moshe Holtzberg returned to the Nariman Chabad House in central Mumbai on Thursday to unveil a “living memorial” to his parents killed in a terror attack there over nine years ago.
Surrounded by Indian media — which has affectionately dubbed him “baby Moshe” — family, dignitaries, and the nanny who saved him from the carnage of the November 2008 attacks, Holtzberg, 11, spoke about his return and invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join him again in Mumbai for his bar mitzvah in two years.
“I am returning home. I am returning to where I was nine years ago,” he said. He called the event “festive” and thanked God for his miraculous rescue.
Holtzberg’s parents Gavriel and Rivky were killed along with four other Jews when Pakistani terrorists took over the Jewish community center where they lived on November 26, 2008.
A section of the Chabad House that still has the bullet holes from the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India seen on January 18, 2018. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
Together with Netanyahu, the 11-year-old unveiled a memorial to those killed. Later making his own quiet dedication, his grandfather Shimon Rosenberg lit a candle for his slain daughter and son-in-law.
“This is the spot where they were killed, and where Moshe was able to escape from,” he said, pointing to the floor.
The family’s nanny, Sandra Samuel, escaped from the house sometime later carrying Moshe, then two years old, and both eventually moved to Israel, where they live with his grandparents.
Touring the upstairs rooms of the house, which have been left as they were after the attack as part of a memorial and education center which will be built at the site, Samuel called the memorial “very respectable.”
The dedication took place on Netanyahu’s last day of a five-day trip to India. He later met with members of the city’s small Jewish community.
Speaking at the event, Netanyahu chatted quietly with Moshe before praising him, the Chabad movement’s emissaries around the world — who counted the Holtzbergs among their number — and Samuel for managing to squirrel the boy out of the house amid the several-day standoff.
“These terrible killers who unfortunately exacted from us a terrible sacrifice, did not exact from us the price of this child, because of the love of the Jewish people of the amazing woman Sandra,” he said.
Some 166 people were killed when terrorists assaulted several sites around Mumbai’s Colaba neighborhood on November 26, 2008, leading to a four-day standoff. The Taj hotel, where Netanyahu is staying and where he unveiled a memorial earlier in the day, was one of the sites attacked.
The trip to Mumbai was Moshe’s first since the attacks. Netanyahu invited him to join his trip when he and visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a call upon the child in July.
During the event, friends and families of the Holtzbergs toured the upper floors of the house, pointing to where things had been. In one room, fading children’s drawings of Torahs and the Hebrew alphabet painted on the wall remained the only reminder of what had been a family home, standing in stark contrast to walls with massive holes in them and rebar hanging from the ceiling.
Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who had appointed the Holtzbergs to be Chabad emissaries in Mumbai in 2003, said he felt their presence at the center “in a very palpable way.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel, he said leaving the top floors as a reminder of the carnage would allow the tragedy to be used “a springboard for growth.”
“Don’t cover the holes. Take the tragedy that shook the world, that gripped the world and make it something that should inspire the world. Turn it into a building that will be a source of light for the world,” he said in a speech later.
As the prime minister left, Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky, who is the current director of the Chabad House, walked back up to the now near-empty hall holding his toddler, Gavi, named for Holtzberg and nearly the same age Moshe was when he was forced from the home.
“I’m not really the rabbi,” he joked, pointing to Gavi squirming in his arms. “He is.”