Jocelyn’s Eulogy to Mumbai
Posted by Oyster on December 16, 2008
Jocelyn is a friend of mine who has shared her stories of her travels in India on Oy Bay and on her own blog. She had a very personal, heart-breaking story to tell of her relationship with the Holtzbergs, and of her beloved Mumbai. I reprint here, with permission, her eulogy that she delivered at the SF memorial service and elsewhere.
Several people have asked me to post the speech I gave at the San Francisco JCC and Kehilla High School this week for the Chabad Mumbai Memorial/Solidarity Services. Feel free to share. A slightly different version of this will be published in the Cleveland Jewish News this week as well. Thanks to everyone for all the support and care. I hope we can make something positive come out of this senseless and heart wrenching tragedy.
It’s been a rough several days. This wasn’t the Thanksgiving weekend I had in mind. I was looking forward to taking a break to relax, slow down, eat well, enjoy time with friends, and pause to feel gratitude and appreciation. Turns out, that’s what Gabi and Rivki gave me every time I went to Chabad for Shabbat.
I spent nearly four and a half months living in Mumbai from January-June, 2007, while volunteering with the American Jewish World Service. I worked with NGOs located in South Mumbai, in the area of last week’s attacks. These sites are not abstract to me, they are real, I was there, and they are personal. Especially Chabad.
On my second day in Bombay, I went to Chabad for Shabbat dinner. It was very hard to find. Even after taking a taxi from the train station, it took me nearly an hour to locate the house off of Colaba Causeway, the main tourist strip, also the site of two other attacks. Upon entering, I was welcomed immediately by Rivki Holtzberg. I was instantly struck at how pale her skin was, as if she never was exposed to sunlight, and how cool she looked, as if she was completely oblivious to the raging heat outside the a.c. I wondered how a woman like her would end up in a place like Bombay. Now I understand that only a woman like her, an eishet chayil, could be there.
I tried speaking Hebrew with Rivki until my vocabulary ran out, and then she easily switched to English. I remember so clearly the sound of her typical Israeli lisp, and how she looked at me with such direct focus while we were talking. I recall being surprised that there was a Lubavitch community in her hometown when she said, “Ani m’Afula.” I held her 2 month old baby, Moishe, and watched him grow and develop a unique personality more with each visit.
My next visit to Chabad was two weeks later, and unfortunately coincided with the onset of Bombay Belly, an intense stomach bug. Rivky lovingly nursed me that night. I was too ill to sit at the table so she had me lay down on a couch in front of the bookshelves packed with sifrei kodesh. Even hours later, I was still too sick to get back home, so she made up the couch for me to spend the night. Rivki was the next best thing to my mom that night; I had no idea she was only one year older than me.
Every Shabbos, Rabbi Gabi asked everyone to go around the table and introduce themselves, and then choose from 1 of 4 options: 1. lead a song, 2. give a drosh or dvar torah, 3. pledge to take on a new mitzvah, or 4. tell an inspiring and heartwarming story. He was always smiling face sitting at the Shabbos table. His pure love for the gift of rest from the Divine was visible.
Over the next months at Chabad I heard esoteric Jewish commentary, incredible stories from friends working with the local Jews, Shabbat songs sung with great passion and joy, and an amazing history from a child of Holocaust survivors about how his parents met. It was a place where I never had to explain myself to someone who didn’t understand a simple tiny thing because of a language or culture barrier. It was a place where I could eat familiar foods instead of hot curries all the time. Rivki’s ability to take Indian ingredients and turn them into traditional Shabbos table dishes was impressive. It was a place where I felt natural, at home, safe, and protected by my own community. My regular visits at Chabad, and especially with Rivki, helped me feel grounded in the everyday madness of Mumbai.
The fact that Gabi and Rivki volunteered to serve in Mumbai speaks volumes about them as people. Pushed by a call to engage with the world and spread warmth and love, they placed themselves incredibly far from their comfort zone. Difficult as it is, we must try not to let the fear imposed by the terrorists dim the light that is Gabi and Rivki’s legacy. My life has been so beautifully touched by the Holtzbergs, and I hope I will merit the ability to continue on in their good work of tikkun olam, in my own way. It was my privilege to know the Holtzbergs, and I’m grateful to honor their memory with you tonight, to give you a glimpse of what they would have offered you in their home in my beloved Mumbai.
Here’s a memorial video that Chabad / JLI put together, and it features a narrator reading an excerpt from Jocelyn’s eulogy: