On his way to board a flight to Israel with families accompanying the bodies of loved ones killed in the massacre at Mumbai's Chabad House, Rabbi Shneur Kupchick, the director of New Delhi's Chabad House, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that his organization would not be shaken by the tragic and terrible events of last week.
Going back to Wednesday evening, as Islamic terrorists began their three-day murder spree across Mumbai, Kupchick said he had been unaware that anything was amiss.
Busy with the myriad Israeli backpackers and Jewish businessmen who flock to his Chabad House for kosher meals or a clean place to stay, the Israeli-born rabbi rarely has time for much else. But as Kupchick was finishing up another day on the job, his friends and colleagues nearly 1,500 kilometers away were in grave danger.
These friends and colleagues included Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the director of Mumbai's Chabad House, and Holtzberg's wife, Rivka.
"I heard about it that night," Kupchick said by phone from Mumbai on Monday. "We began hearing news about the attacks in Mumbai, and then I got a message from the Foreign Ministry asking me who was in the Chabad House there. They wanted phone numbers and things like that. From there I called their families."
Worried, Kupchick prayed for the best and sat tight, hoping the attacks and the siege of Mumbai's Chabad House would end quickly and peacefully. However, as time went on, it became evident that his presence was needed.
"By Thursday afternoon, I knew I would have to go to Mumbai," he said. "It was then that we found out for sure that the terrorists were in the building, and I decided to go."
But leaving New Delhi's Chabad House was no easy matter. Kupchick struggled to find other Chabad rabbis to watch over the building in his stead and left for the airport before they arrived.
"There's never a moment when there aren't Jews in the New Delhi Chabad House," Kupchick said. "And because my family was away at a wedding, I left some of the Israeli backpackers who had been staying there in charge. They watched over the Chabad House for a few hours until my replacements came."
Kupchick flew to Mumbai, arriving in the smoldering Indian financial capital as gun battles raged.
"I arrived Thursday evening and went to the neighborhood where the Chabad House is located," Kupchick said. "The entire area was on lockdown - the military operations were still ongoing. I got as close as possible, but there wasn't much else to be done."
On Friday, Kupchick escorted Rivka Holtzberg's parents to the apartment of an Israeli consulate worker who had been close with the young couple. He gave it to them for the weekend so they would have a comfortable place for Shabbat.
"Even under the circumstances, we tried to honor Shabbat as much as possible," Kupchick said. "We had food sent... from Israel, we ate together, one of the rabbis gave a powerful dvar Torah. But needless to say, it was a long and difficult Shabbat."
On Saturday night, news of the Holtzbergs' fate arrived, and Kupchik, not knowing what else to do, stood by the family's side.
"I did what I could to assist them and help them," Kupchick said. "But ZAKA workers had already flown in before Shabbat, and the consulate and Foreign Ministry workers were taking care of everything else.
"All of them, the Foreign Ministry, the consulate, ZAKA, they were so amazing," he said. "They spent sleepless nights helping the families and getting everything in order. My thanks goes out to them."
From there, he said he was on hand to to help out wherever he could.
After he attends the funerals in Israel on Tuesday, Kupchick plans to return to his Chabad House in New Delhi and resume his work.
"In general, India is a very positive place," he said. "I've never once heard of any anti-Semitic incidents occurring. Jews come from all over the world, Europe, the United States and tell stories about the anti-Semitism they've encountered, but never in India. Even the crime rate here is very low."
In that vein, Kupchick said he had received no warnings of an impending terrorist attack prior to last week.
"Of course, on holidays, we receive general warnings," he said. "But a specific threat, never."
Kupchick also said the attackers' desire to scare Jews away from India or shake their resolve would backfire.
"I believe the opposite will happen," he said. "Am Yisrael is not afraid. After Shabbat, I called my Chabad House to see how things were going. They told me that many people had arrived for the Shabbat meals and that instead of being scared or discouraged, they knew that now was the time to come together and say L'chaim.
"I think this is a natural tendency for Jews," he added, "and you saw all over the world, not just in India, that this last Shabbat, many more Jews came to synagogue and took part in prayers and mitzvahs. You can feel the push from the Kodesh Baruch Hu that the Jewish people should be together."
"We are like one big family," Kupchick continued. "Even the non-Jewish nanny, Sandra, the one who saved little Moshe. Last night, we were all sitting together, and Rivki's mother was going over a list with her, a list of the different things that were in the Chabad House. And she asked Sandra, do you know of any other personal things, like tefillin, that might be there?
"And Sandra told her, these things are not personal items, they belong to everyone - we're all connected, and we're all together. She understood," Kupchick said.
"Even something like tefillin or a tallit, God has given it to us, and it's not for any one person. That's exactly the point, we're all together and we should all be as one."
7:24 PM in New Brunswick, NJ
Shabbat Ends 8:25 PM
Friday, 19 April 2019