Thursday, December 04, 2008

Kiddush Hashem

A Jew who is killed because he or she is Jewish has died in sanctification of G-d’s name. Rivkah and Gavriel Holtzberg and those who were murdered with them at the Chabad House in Mumbai died Al Kiddush Hashem. The Holtzbergs sanctified G-d’s name in their lifetime, as well, through innumerable acts of chesed, of caring and kindness. They opened their home to Jews from many countries and divergent religious commitment. They taught by example what a Torah life encompasses. They served G-d and they served their fellow man.

Even in the newspaper photos, what leaps off the page are pictures of two wonderful young people who exuded chen, a difficult, even impossible, word to translate into English for it speaks of both inner and external qualities of goodness that are expressed through doing good deeds in an entirely natural way, as if there is no other possible way to treat another person. Their special qualities come across in the testimonials written in recent days by persons who benefitted from their kindness. One speaks of their “putting their own personal pain aside to build a home for others.” Another of “their wonderful optimism” and their “consideration of others and their selfless work.” A women who is not religious writes how they led “ by example in showing people like me how Judaism can be.”

This quality is apparent in many Chabad centers around the world, where especially in the recent period, young couples have come to serve as the movement’s emissaries, providing spiritual and other nourishment to local Jews, usually small in number, and a greater number who are passing through. Mumbai illustrates this vital aspect of Chabad-Lubavitch activity. Where else can we find chassidic and secular Jews in a common lodging and eating at the same table?

As commerce has become more global, especially encompassing much of Asia, and as travel to exotic places has become routine, Chabad facilities have grown in importance. Some serve vast numbers of Jews, whether they be young Israelis recently released from military service or Jews from every place of Jewish settlement traveling on business or for pleasure. Chabad centers at times provide meals and assist in other ways hundreds of Jews in the space of a single week.

The Mumbai tragedy will not deter young Chabad families eagerly seeking new or remote places where they can fulfill what they regard as their mission in life. Yet, with terrorism being a constant in today’s world and the prospect for the quieting of the fanaticism that has engulfed much of Islam being at most a remote possibility, we must be concerned about the security of Chabad emissaries, not only because of Mumbai copycats but even more because terrorists of all stripes target Jews only because they are Jewish. It is an urgent question as to how Chabad centers that serve as the main expression of Jewish life in far off places can be made more secure.

I imagine that requests are being made to governments to provide security and I imagine that some governments are responding positively. It is in the nature of things that protection is removed after a period of time when attention is no longer being paid. However, the war against Jews is an old and continuing story and our enemies take advantage of opportunities to harm us, this despite our total population being far less than a statistical error in the Indian census. We who are no more than two-tenth of one-percent of the world’s population are vilified, victimized and targeted.

The Kiddush Hashem that was the daily fare of the Holtzbergs and of many Chabad families in the field is heightened by the ongoing sacrifice of their being away from parents and close family members, at times in places where kosher food is scarcely available. There are trips home for simchas, conferences and special occasions and these breaks from the difficult routine that is their daily experience help them cope with the challenges and stresses that they face. They do not assuage the emotional difficulties arising from separation.

Increasingly, Chabad families are located in places where there are no religious schools for the children who must be taught at home by overburdened parents. When children become older, generally before they are Bat or Bar Mitzvah, they are sent to schools back home, primarily in Israel and North America. This may result in educational improvement, but it adds to the feeling of separation and the emotional hardship experienced by parents. In the Holtzberg’s situation, as we now know, there were additional reasons for emotional pain, none of which removed the smiles on their faces or diminished their chen or commitment to service.

In the current world economic crisis, doubtlessly most shluchim or emissaries are encountering unprecedented financial problems. Chabad services in the field do not have a dollar sign attached to them. There is, of course, fundraising and it can be intensive. In good economic times, it can be expected that Chabad kindness will be reciprocated by charitable contributions. Under present circumstance, the financial road has become much more difficult and, as with all other aspects of Jewish communal life, the likelihood is that the situation will get worse before we see any improvement.

Kiddush Hashem is never in vain, no matter how great the loss. Jews must never seek martyrdom, nor may we regard the sanctification of G-d’s name as trivial. The Holtzberg lived lives of kedusha. As we mourn their deaths and those who were killed with them, we know that they will live in the memory of the Jewish people, in our hearts and souls, as their goodness will inspire others to live sanctified lives.