The making of heroes: an introspective look at the terrorist attacks in Mumbai

We are now two months removed from the terrorist attacks, which took place over Thanksgiving.  

Of the many words spoken in the reporting of this event, “hero” has become rather frequently used. 

There are many words in our daily vocabulary that we tend to use casually, without really contemplating their true characteristics and significance. So I ask myself, why has this word been chosen to describe the fallen? What is a hero, and how does one obtain such an honorable title?  

In pop culture a hero tends to be a sports figure, a movie star or someone who holds a glamorous page on the front cover of weeklies, the reason being that perhaps he/she defeated the odds, achieving something no one thought that they could. Commendable? Of course, but HERO? Somehow I feel like we are cheating the word. 

The Chabad representatives to India, Rabbi Gaby and Rivkah Holzberg, fed hundreds of meals weekly to travelers, thrill seekers and business people who came through Mumbai. Each meal was 100 percent kosher; all were home made.  

There is no kosher meat available in India, so Rabbi Holtzberg became a ritual slaughterer and prepared hundreds of chickens a month for strangers at no cost. They opened their home, and their hearts to perfect strangers, often advising them about their troubles, or simply providing them with a home thousands of miles away from their own. Yet this is not what made them heroes. This was their sole purpose in moving there to begin with.

Their allotted time on this earth was up and their lives ended brutally. 

And as the whole world turned our eyes towards the Nariman Chabad House and watched, in our hearts we proclaimed them “heroes.” 

It isn’t the brutality of their deaths that made them heroes. Many great and holy sages died brutal deaths. There had to be something special, different something which separated them from all those before them.  

For two days the whole world watched together, glued to the TV or internet. We hoped, we prayed, we joined together and performed acts of goodness and kindness. When the news was reported, we all mourned together, one world united. We were all there together in real time and felt the world had been changed by a young couple living in a far-off land. The world became a different world, a gentler world and a more spiritual world.  

In their lives, they reached hundreds, and in their deaths, the entire world.

Let’s keep their memories alive by making resolutions to performing acts of goodness and kindness. For more information log onto www.ChabadUM.org/mumbai.

February 2, 2009


Rabbi Mendy Fellig

Chaplain at University of Miami Chabad

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