Tag Archives: Chabad

Jews of the Week: the Genius of Rogatchov and Joseph Trumpeldor

An Unparalleled Genius and a Zionist Icon

Joseph Trumpeldor

Joseph Volfovich Trumpeldor (1880-1920) was born in Russia, the son of a cantonist (young Jews forcefully conscripted into the Russian army). He became a dentist, but in 1902 enlisted in the Russian army. Trumpeldor lost his left arm in one battle of the Russo-Japanese War, yet wanted to continue serving, reportedly saying “I still have another arm to give to the motherland.” He returned to the battlefield and was captured by the Japanese. Trumpeldor spent most of his captivity studying, learning more about Judaism, Jewish history, and the Zionist cause. He even started writing on Jewish topics and found fellow Jewish prisoners who dreamed of settling in the Promised Land. Upon his release, he received four medals, and was later made an officer, making him the most decorated Jew in the Russian army, and its first Jewish officer. Unable to return to the military, he became a lawyer. In 1911, Trumpeldor made aliyah and settled in Kibbutz Degania. With the outbreak of World War I, he went to Egypt to establish the Jewish Legion (which fought for Britain) alongside Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The legion, also known as the Zion Mule Corps, is considered the first entirely Jewish military unit in two thousand years, and a precursor to the IDF. It helped the British conquer the land of Israel from the Ottoman Turks. Trumpeldor was a key soldier in that effort, and was wounded in the Battle of Gallipoli. After the war, he returned to Russia to gather more young Jews to settle in Israel. In 1920, while working to build the new town of Tel Hai, a band of Arabs attacked the Jewish community. Trumpeldor was shot twice, and succumbed to his injuries. According to legend, his last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.” Trumpeldor immediately became a symbol of Jewish strength, self-defense, and resilience, and an inspiration for a new generation of Zionists. The day of his death, the 11th of Adar (this coming Monday), is a minor holiday in Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon

That same date is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Rosen (1858-1936). He was born in the town of Rogatchov (in modern Belarus) to a Chabad family. By the age of 13, he was recognized as a genius and was sent to study with some of the great rabbis of the day in the town of Slutzk. At 31, he was appointed one of two chief rabbis of Dvinsk (in modern Latvia), and served in that role for nearly five decades, until his last days. Rabbi Rosen ensured the survival and flourishing of Jewish life under Russian Imperial, and then Communist, rule, often with great sacrifice to himself. Meanwhile, he published several important works of Jewish commentary and Jewish law. Some of his best writings were published only after his death, under the title Tzafnat Paneach, “Decipherer of Secrets”. Rabbi Rosen was known as the Rogatchover Gaon, the “Genius of Rogatchov”, and was famous for his unbelievable breadth of knowledge on just about any subject. After once meeting him for a lengthy discussion, the renowned poet Bialik said that “from the mind of the Rogatchover could be carved out two Einsteins” and that he is “a great spiritual national treasure.” Rabbi Rosen had many students, including Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who also received his rabbinic ordination from the Gaon. The Rebbe once said that Rabbi Rosen was able to simplify all of Judaism into ten ideas, and quoted him as saying: “Were I a little bit smarter, it would be only one idea!”

Did You Know These Famous People Converted to Judaism?

Words of the Week

Love and work are the two things you have to do in life.
– Sigmund Freud

Jews of the Week: Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg

In Memory of a Holy Couple

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg

Gavriel Noach Holtzberg (1979-2008) was born in Kiryat Malachi, Israel to a Chabad family, and grew up in Crown Heights, New York. A young prodigy with a prolific memory, Holtzberg had memorized an entire order of Mishnah word-for-word (a total of 681 passages in 88 chapters). He was a two-time champion in Mishnah competitions, and placed second in an international Talmud competition. He studied to be a rabbi and mohel in New York and Argentina, while doing community service through Chabad in Thailand and China. Holtzberg married Rivka Rosenberg (1980-2008) of Afula, Israel in 2002. A year later, the young couple moved to Mumbai, India to open a Chabad House of their own. Mumbai had a Jewish community numbering several thousand, along with countless Israeli tourists. The Holtzbergs provided vital Jewish services, including kosher food, a mikveh, and a place to pray, with Rabbi Gabi shechting his own chickens, officiating at Jewish weddings, and performing brit milahs. The couple would regularly host thirty or more people for meals every Shabbat. They also oversaw the conversion of a number of Indians to Judaism (including former Jew of the Week Sarah Avraham). The Holtzbergs were so popular that by 2006 they had raised enough money to purchase a six-story building known as the Nariman House. This became known as Mumbai’s “Jewish headquarters”, and in addition to being a synagogue and a Chabad House, also provided aid for the poor and ran a drug addiction clinic. During this time, the Holtzbergs suffered the loss of two of their three children who succumbed to Tay-Sachs disease. Then came the worst of tragedies: exactly ten years ago, on the 26th of November, the Holtzbergs’ Chabad House was attacked by Muslim terrorists who had descended upon multiple key targets in Mumbai. The couple was taken hostage, and were murdered the following morning, along with four of their guests. (A total of 164 people were killed in the Mumbai attacks.) It was later revealed that Rivki was five months pregnant. The Holtzbergs’ two-year old son Moshe was saved by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel. Five years ago, a new rabbinical couple was sent to Mumbai to continue the holy work of the Holtzbergs, and the Chabad House has now been rebuilt. The centre continues to grow, and now runs a nursery and Jewish school, too. A second Chabad couple is on its way to help. Among other things, the Chabad House is currently working to construct a rooftop memorial for all 164 victims of the attack. Moshe Holtzberg will have his Bar Mitzvah at the House next year.

Moshe Holtzberg: Ten Years Later

The Mumbai Doctor Who Smashed His Idols and Converted to Judaism

Words of the Week

I vow that we will avenge the deaths of Gabi and Rivki. But not with AK-47s, not with grenades and tanks. We will take revenge in a different way. We will add light. We will add good deeds…
– Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

Chabad’s new Mumbai emissary, Rabbi Kozlovsky, lights the city’s Chanukah menorah.