Saturday, November 29, 2008

News From Mumbai: Shock in Brooklyn

When I came home there was a pained silence in the faces of passers by. In the microcosmic world of Crown Heights, the shocking news came that a young rabbi and his wife who had served in Mumbai as emissaries of the Lubavitcher movement had been killed.

Stalin had a saying that “A single death is a tragedy.A million deaths is a statistic.” In this corner of Brooklyn, the faces of Rabbi and Mrs. Holzberg mirrored for us the human suffering of the Indian people.

Casualty figures have a numbing and disorienting character. There is a level of the human psyche that is not digital but pictographic. Being a part of a family, a community and a nation gives one an opportunity to empathise with other members of the human family. Today, when traveling in the areas where I often meet people from India, there was a wordless look of recognition, of empathy. The ties that Jews in Brooklyn have through the Chabad house provide a thread of commonality between Jews and the people of India.

India has suffered terribly since 1947, when it was partitioned into India and Pakistan. People who had lived as neighbours for centuries were often uprooted to live on “their” side of the ethnic border. Sometimes entire trains full of people were murdered by bandits. Estimates of dead from partition times range from half a million to well over a million. Partition redrew the borders of India without questioning the borders of the heart. In the early 1900’s, Mohandas Gandhi discovered a sense of Indian identity not in the soil of India but in South Africa where he sas socially grouped with Indians of different languages, faiths and castes. It is a lesson that is learned anew as Indian immigrants come to America and discover threads of commonality that were badly frayed in their homeland.

When I came home, my wife was listening to Indian TV in English. English is actually a national language of India. It is the middle ground upon which India’s people meet Indians who speak hundreds of languages find English useful in uniting India.

The Indian news anchors clearly feel for their their country. Their emotion is raw and genuine. There is an avalanche of information in their coverage of a political and cultural landscape totally different from ours. The sense is clearly conveyed and appreciated that this was an act of war. It was not a lightning strike or a devastating blast. It was a precisely planned operation. It was researched and carried out with the help of individuals who actually took jobs in some of the targets to get strategic information. The crucial aspect distinguishing it from a military strike was that its targets were unarmed civilians.

The scars on the landscape can perhaps be repaired the human loss is irreplaceable. Unlike 9/11, where the attackers came from above, this attack was perpetrated by intimate strangers who gained trust and abused it with deadly intent.

The Chabad community in India has resolved to continue the work of its murdered representatives. Even this Shabbos, they are planning to continue the Sabbath meals and celebrations that made the Chabad House in Mumbai such an attractive destination. The only concession to India’s grim reality is an added layer of security. Chabad in India cam undoubtedly derive inspiration from the citizens of Mumbai who are determined to rebuild and defend their city.

There are many questions about who is behind the attack on Mumbai. Captured terrorists say that they are from Pakistan. There are in fact “home grown” terror cells in India. If it is proven that the terrorists are from India, it could prove to be a great embarassment to the government. It could also create ethnic unrest in India. If evidence points towards Pakistan, that could be a major setback for good relations between the two countries, both of whom have atomic weapons. Evidence is starting to point to Indian Pakistani cooperation in perpetrating the terror operation.

The terrorists who were captured do not have the comforts of Guantanamo to look forward to. Indian security forces strike back with a harsh hand. Martial law, confessions extracted with torture and retaliation against family are not unknown in India. This attack is rightly perceived as an act of war. The news anchors on Indian TV seem to understand this very clearly.

I feel a sense of solidarity with India as I listen to their news coverage, which manifests a clarity that comes with seething anger. Jews the world over share the grief and anger of the Indian people. Our prayers are for healing, consolation and revenge, all of which are sacred, all of which are called for. May G-d console us and strengthen us in these trying times

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