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Rebuilt, but bullet marks in place

- Chabad House reopens almost six years after 26/11; PM to launch safety joint command
A rabbi holds a Torah scroll during the reopening of the house on Tuesday. (Reuters)
A rabbi checks the Torah ark at the synagogue inside Chabad House on Tuesday (AFP)

Mumbai, Aug. 26: Memory can play tricks but not on bullet marks.

Six years after Pakistani gunmen stormed Chabad House on a late November evening, the Jewish outreach centre reopened today, partially rebuilt and with the bullet marks intact as a grim reminder of the destruction and the killings.

Over 160 people died in the 26/11 siege, six of them in the south Mumbai building. Among the dead were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and wife Rivka.

Their baby son Moshe survived as his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel, sneaked out with the two-year-old. Now seven-and-a-half, he lives with Rivka’s parents Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg in Afula, Israel.

In Mumbai this afternoon, Moshe’s paternal grandparents Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg and Freida were present when the five-storey Nariman House, an indiscreet grey Colaba building heavily damaged by mortars and bullets from AK assault rifles, was formally thrown open by the Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch.

The centre, rebuilt at a cost of $2.5 million with contributions from the Rohr family in the US and the global Jewish community, now hosts a restaurant on the first floor, a synagogue on the second, and a community hall on the third.

The fourth and fifth floors, which once housed the guest rooms and the Rabbi’s residence, will be converted into a museum, while the rooftop terrace will have a memorial to the 26/11 victims.

Today, memory and future memorial fused in an emotional ribbon-cutting as the two-dozen-odd rabbis from across Asia watched the outreach centre reopen.

The small synagogue has a plaque that shows the spots where Gavriel and two guest rabbis were shot dead by the gunmen on the evening of November 26, 2008. Gavriel was in his office and the other two were reading the Torah when the terrorists opened fire.

Candles marked the place where Gavriel’s body lay. A placard read: “Here was slain… Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, May Hashem avenge his blood, May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.”

Eight bullet marks on the wall near the spot have been kept intact.

Rivka was on the top floor with three other guests. Held hostage, they were eventually killed.

The fourth floor, yet to be refurbished, is scarred with hundreds of bullet marks. A collapsed sidewall has been rebuilt.

“When we complete the redesigning of these floors, we will preserve the bullet marks, the Torah which was shot at, and all the other reminders of the destruction exactly as the terrorists left it that day,” said Nick Applebaum, the head of design of the planned museum.

In the fifth-floor living quarters, Moshe’s room still bears his name in Hebrew on the walls. One wall shows the blue markings that measured his height as he grew up.

The reopening marked an emotional moment for the Holtzbergs. “It is a very special day. Everybody remembers that terrifying day and the tragedy. Gaby and Rivka had spread the message of kindness, hope, tolerance and love. We need to ensure their mission to spread goodness and love continues to grow,” Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg said at the formal ceremony to throw open the centre.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the vice-chairman of Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational arm, said the occasion was one of sadness as well as celebration. “We will not fight terrorists with rifles, tanks and grenades. We will fight terrorists with torches of light.”

Rabbi Yisroel Kozlovsky, who with wife Chaya is in charge of Chabad House, said Gavriel and Rivka were “role models” for them. “We are humbled to be part of the Chabad-Lubavitch mission for a peaceful world.”