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Moshe Holtzberg Lost His Mommy So Terrorists Could Derail Peace

Moshe Holtzberg consoled at his parent's funeral  (AP)

Moshe Holtzberg consoled at his parent's funeral (AP)

The sound and sight of little Moshe Holtzberg wailing Ima, ima (“Mommy, mommy”), repeatedly during his parent’s funeral service in Mumbai will lacerate our hearts for a long time. I even hesitated before featuring this image since poor Moshe has, from the beginning, been a pawn in the game of far more powerful forces than himself or his family. First the terrorists, who wrenched his parents from him. Then Chabad, which allowed these images to be taken. I say let Moshe become an ordinary boy again (if this is indeed ever possible). Let’s not turn him into a poster child for any particular cause or ideology.

To the extent that my featuring this image here contributes to this, I apologize. But I do think the suffering of the victims needs to be brought home to us so we learn lessons from the tragedy and don’t allow it to happen again. That is why Moshe’s image is featured here for the last time.

Lashkar e Taibe killed the dearest souls in the world to Moshe because they wanted to make a point in the ongoing regional conflict between India and Pakistan. Both nations have for some time been on a twisting road toward peace. Trade has begun. Leaders are talking. Barriers are slowly falling.

This alarms Pakistani–and to a lesser extent Indian Hindu–extremists who don’t want peace. These religious nationalists want supremacy. They want maximalism. They reject compromise. They reject acknowledging the other. It’s all or nothing for them. They prefer to sow chaos rather than accepting less than a whole loaf.

That is why such acts of terror take on the sense of apres moi le deluge. They are the ultimate nihilism. And that is why Moshe has become such an apt symbol. He represents all we hold dear in our lives: the loving bonds of family, religious tradition, innocence. The terrorists have attempted to shear these away from us. But we must not let them win. We must hold fast to what we believe even as the killers try to wrest it from us.  Let us leave a space in our hearts for Moshe.

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Alex Stein December 2, 2008, 11:25 PM

    If I’m not mistaken the picture was taken at a Mumbai synagogue before the flight to Israel, and not at the funeral.

    I also think your tone in criticising Habad for allowing the images to be taken is a bit unfair, and it’s rather unfortunate that it follows immediately after criticising the terrorists for killing Moshe’s parents (although I’m sure that wasn’t their intention). In any case, should Habad have tried to prevent local photographers/media figures from entering the synagogue?

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, the man holding him goes by the name of Zaki Hussein – another member of staff at Habad house who survived the attack. If you’re looking for a positive story of Jewish-Muslim relations, this could be it.

  • Richard Silverstein December 2, 2008, 11:51 PM

    @Alex Stein: I believe a 2 yr old boy deserves to be allowed to grieve in private if at all possible. If God forbid, my spouse were to die, I would never allow photos taken of my children crying over her. That should be off limits.

  • Alex Stein December 3, 2008, 12:01 AM

    Do you think it was possible in these circumstances? In a city like Mumbai?

  • Joel Katz December 3, 2008, 12:09 AM

    Hi Richard,

    I came across this comment by Dennis Prager. What’s your take on this?


    “…imagine a Basque separatist terrorist organization attacking Madrid. Would the terrorists take time out to murder all those in the Madrid Chabad House? The idea is ludicrous. But no one seems to find it odd that that Pakistani Muslim terrorists who hate India and want it to give up control of Indian Kashmir would send two of its 10 terrorists to kill perhaps the only rabbi in Mumbai.”

    Joel Katz

  • Richard Silverstein December 3, 2008, 12:13 AM

    @Alex Stein: Yes, I think a synagogue has the right to bar photographers from its premises during a memorial service.

  • Richard Silverstein December 3, 2008, 12:17 AM

    @Joel Katz: A zochen vay. Dennis Prager is an intellectual cretin. What a stupid comment. There are synagogues in Mumbai so I presume there are other rabbis there. BTW, the terrorists attacked Chabad House and not a Mumbai synagogue. Aside fr. the possibility that the synagogue was a more hardened target that deterred them, they may’ve thought of Chabad House as an Israeli, more than a Jewish target. Though who can know for sure.

    Leaving all that aside, Basque separatists are engaged in a political struggle with no religious overtones so of course they would not kill rabbis. But if a rabbi championed the cause of rejecting Basque nationalism I have no doubt they might try to kill him.

  • Alex Stein December 3, 2008, 12:30 AM

    I don’t think it was specifically a memorial service; I think it was regular shacharit. Either way, I think the grandfather was trying to make a point that life would go on, that Chabad’s work would continue in Mumbai. That’s what he said when interviewed, that maybe he would be the new shaliach there. In that sense, it was vital that the media were present, so that the clear message that things would go on, that the terrorists would not be able to stop Chabad’s work, was broadcast to the world. I don’t think anyone told Moshe to scream for ima, and I assume nobody encouraged them specifically to film him. I think it’s a bit harsh to criticise Habad for this (although obviously I am disturbed by some of the other relatives using the mourning period as emotional blackmail vis-a-vis Hebron), esp. given the circumstances.

  • Ariel December 3, 2008, 2:02 AM

    It is a very normal Biblical, Jewish and human thing to do to feature a victim of an act as a way to arouse feelings of others to mobilize them for military or political action to prevnt their children from becoming orphrans.
    In the story of pilegesh be givah at the end of the book of judges in the tanach the womans abused dead body is cut into 12 pieces and with each sent as an exhibit to the tribes of Yisrael to arouse their vengance against the degenerates from the tribe of Benjamin who raped the woman to death and the leadership of the tribe who prevented the offenders from being judged.
    The wounded father of Shelahevet Pas (a little Jewish girl from Hevron murdered in the the stroller by an Arab sharpshooter from a hill given over to the Arab control by Bibi Netanyahu despite the warnings of the security personel that exactly this kind of thing will happen as a result http://video.google DOT com/videoplay?docid=7585642992930513264 ) also paraded her body around Eretz Yisrael to shake people and the government up to cause them to provide proper defense for his neighborhood.
    The murder of Yitzhak Rabin (the ultimate ‘karban ha’shalom’- http://www.truepeace.org/Audio/shalom.rm ) ) is still being used for political purposes by both left and right.
    Even the custom to add “HY”D”-Hashem inkom dmam may G-d avenge their blood) ( after a name of Jews murdered by gentiles has similar reasons.
    So cut out this respect the privacy of the victims nonsense .
    If this picture will lead the people or the government in the Land of Yisrael to walk away from the abiss I am sure Moishe Holzberg wouldn’t mind it when he grows up.
    PS. And regarding your comments on other thread regarding mixing politics and religiondon’t confuse the Tanach with Jefferson’s letters there is no separation of “church and state” in Judaism and Rabbi Wolpo whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe appointed as a shaliach lemaan shleimut ha’aretz -an emisary responsible for the teritorial integrity of the Land of Israel has nothing to appologise to you for even if his words will get Olmert or the like executed.
    (PS. by the way about that he did say in the original and later repeated himself that he is not calling for an assasination rather he feels that by giving money and arms to the people at war with us the government is guilty of treason the only crime punishable by death penalty under Israeli law and thus in principle the Badatz should have them tried and convicted and executed , and he also points out that the whole reason he made this statement was not really a desire to see Olmert , Livni etc. executed but rather to wake them and the whole country to the continuing tragedy in Sderot that was daily bombarded with Quasams:
    See R. Wolpe talk about this in plain English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRzxsoAUVR0
    PS. By the way while you are finishing mourning the victims of Mumbai a young Jewish boy from Hevron is laying in critical contidion after his Arab brothers threw a cinder-block at his head, while the victims of their Muslim brothers from India were flown to Israel but I am sure this is just another karbon ha’shalom sacrafice for peace that we can survive in our relentless pursuit of piece by piece national suicide.

  • Gitanjali December 3, 2008, 2:30 AM

    Indian Muslims refuse burial for terrorists. Indians…hindus, muslims and christians united as one.

  • John Yorke December 3, 2008, 3:12 AM

    In the end, this is not about Jews, non-Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Believers, non-Believers, Westerners, Easterners, whoever or whatever

    It’s about all of us, the inhabitants of this world. And in this world, it has been said, ‘no man is an island, alone unto himself.’ Yet, how many of us still seek out that island status. On certain matters, there exists no unifying force, no commonality of purpose. Too many of us prefer to bicker and fulminate over the finer points attaching to a problem rather than dealing with it together and in a timely and workmanlike fashion.

    And for those whose expectations may require some unique catharsis to grip the powers-that-be, some epoch-making event that will galvanise our leaders into concerted action, then their hopes are likely to have a long journey ahead of them.

    Exhorting any of the great and the good out there to take the lead must remain of dubious worth. Some have already done so in the past and that past has been very quick to rise up and remove them from their present. Not many of them left now quite so eager to raise their heads above the parapet. Then, what to do?

    If raising your head above the parapet simply invites someone else to shoot it off, then a more roundabout approach must surely make for a better outcome. Why give the enemy a target when you can present him with no target at all? Or better still, what if the only targets become those upon which the enemy dare not fire? What if it begins to dawn upon the enemy that he himself has become the only target left?

    It can be done. It all depends on what ingenuity and imagination can be brought to bear upon the subject. Since the imagination of Man is infinite, then it shouldn’t really present us with that much of a problem.

  • Shoded Yam December 3, 2008, 6:35 AM

    I like to think of myself as being, tough, cynical, and jaded under the most adversarial conditions. You know, an Israeli. I’m also NOT the Chabad’s biggest fan. I have a 2 year old boy. His name is Gideon. He is our only child and is the light of our lives. When I read about how mosheleh cried for his mommy; “ema, ema!!”, the very thought had tears coming out my eyes. The photographs were superfluous and unnecassary. But Chabad apparently is using this tragedy to promote themselves and the ‘heroics” of orthodoxy in general.

  • Richard Silverstein December 4, 2008, 12:28 AM


    It is a very normal Biblical, Jewish and human thing to do to feature a victim of an act as a way to arouse feelings of others to mobilize them for military or political action to prevnt their children from becoming orphrans.

    No, it’s called exploitation. But settlers & right wing Jews do it all the time. I wrote a blog post here about settlers who set their children up with bull’s eyes on their backs & signs recommending to the Israeli police that they shoot them. This was their manipulative way of tugging at heartstrings. And it was out & out exploitation of children. Not to mention that 12 year old settler children have been known to spit at elderly Palestinian women in Hebron. Very nice to goad yr children to engage in such behavior.

    Concerning the Book of Judges, there is much in the Bible that I find bloodthirsty, atrocious & reprehensible (just as there is much that I find sublime). Your story is in the former category.

    I am sure Moishe Holzberg wouldn’t mind it when he grows up.

    Unlike you, I’d prefer that Moshe Holtzberg grow to be an adult before he decides whether in his deep personal grief he wishes to be paraded before the eyes of the world for the sake of making a political pt.

    As for Wolpe, he certainly won’t apologize for anything he believes. Why should he? But I hope some day that the state of Israel arrests him for treason & sedition & hope even then he won’t express remorse. He belongs in prison & not sitting in some Chabad facility enjoying the approbation of all his followers.

    he is not calling for an assasination rather he feels that by giving money and arms to the people at war with us the government is guilty of treason the only crime punishable by death penalty under Israeli law and thus in principle the Badatz should have them tried and convicted and executed , and he also points out that the whole reason he made this statement was not really a desire to see Olmert , Livni etc. executed but rather to wake them and the whole country to the continuing tragedy in Sderot

    This is the biggest load of gobbledy gook I’ve read in ages. Wolpe doesn’t want anyone to assassinate Olmert. Thank God, I feel so relieved. He only wants Olmert tired & executed for treason by the Supreme Court. At least then it would be legal, right? Instead of just stringing Olmert up & lynching him.

    It takes a truly deranged mind to claim that when he says he wishes Olmert executed he doesn’t really MEAN executed; he merely wants to wake him up & shake him out of his lethargy. There are plenty of constitutional ways of waking Olmert up out of lethargy. The best one would be to vote him out of office. Calling for his execution is not a legitimate way to shake up a political leader.

    BTW, I’m nauseated by yr utter hypocrisy in calling Rabin a korban ha-shalom, while you support executing Olmert.

  • Ariel December 4, 2008, 2:26 AM

    BTW, I’m nauseated by yr utter hypocrisy in calling Rabin a korban ha-shalom, while you support executing Olmert.
    I was being sarcastic not hypocritical.
    by the way rabbi Tuvia Bolton ( http://www.tuviabolton.com/ ) was also accused of sedition for writing that song I link there:

  • AD December 4, 2008, 2:59 AM

    What about Al Dura, Richard? Isn’t that the epitome of exploitation?

    Yeah, it is the “settlers & right wing Jews” who do it all the time.

    Your bias and lack of intellectual honesty is shining through with this post.

  • Ariel December 4, 2008, 3:02 AM

    [comment deleted for violation of comment rules–off topic]

  • AD December 4, 2008, 5:43 AM


    Yes I am fully aware of the Al Dura story. And it is only one example of the Palestinians doing exactly what Richard Silverstein blames on “settlers & right wing Jews.”

    The question is, will Richard now insult me for pointing this out, or be honest about this and concede the point?

  • B.BarNavi December 4, 2008, 6:22 AM

    There’s the fallacious tu quoque argument again. Please point out where Richard said that pro-Palestinians did NOT exploit children’s images. Or point out where Richard himself abused the image of Palestinian children. Otherwise, your points ring completely hollow.

  • gene van beaver December 4, 2008, 10:12 AM

    Moshe is in my prayers

  • Richard Silverstein December 4, 2008, 11:03 AM

    @AD: The tactic of the right-wing pro-Israel supporter is to turn every legitimate criticism of their movement into an attack on the other side, even if that is irrelevant to the argument, as the Al Dura case is here. Instead of acknowledging that the settlers exploit children for political gain, he feebly attempts to go on the offensive & say the other side does it (which is debatable in this particular case–but I won’t go into it because it’s simply irrelevant) thereby legitimating whatever bad thing we do.

  • Ariel December 4, 2008, 12:45 PM

    [comment deleted for comment rule violation–off topic]

  • Melissa December 5, 2008, 10:35 AM

    I think the whole world should see this boy’s tears every day so we might all learn the kind of pain that hate causes and learn to love instead.

  • Tina December 13, 2008, 12:22 PM

    Well I think the world should definitely see this little boys tears everyday and may it haunt the people who seek death and destruction to prove what it is they are trying so desperately to prove…and now the world or most world citizens who are concerned deeply for Moshe have a permanent tear in their heart for him and i feel hope and pray that this act of human violence never happens to anyone ever again….that each warning given by these extremists how nonsensical it seems is given total attention by the people who are supposed to be in place to protect us or at least attempt to but not just discount it really pay attention and resolve to stop this …from ever manifesting into murder where it be a gentile, Jew, Muslim, Atheist,Christian, Hindu i could go on and on….its horrific and yes now i would be very interested in little Moshes’ welfare I dont let days go by without offering a prayer for this little boy who has to soldier through this life now in such grief and grow up to be a very strong man and give charity and chesed to all inhabitants of the world just like his parents did and all those who will do it forever and ever. Love prevails and in the end those evil ones will parish in flames~ eternally…..
    G-d Bless Us all.

  • hannah December 14, 2008, 1:55 PM

    You’re obviously a self-hating, unproud Jew. If you were in the Habad house at the time of the attack, the terrorists would’ve tortured and murdered you just as well. They wouldn’t have paused and said, “Let’s let Richard go free – he is a peace-loving man….”

    And, if you want to save a place in your heart for Moshe Holtzberg, get your ridiculous blog off the internet. Do some introspection and see what’s stopping you from being a proud Jew.

  • Richard Silverstein December 14, 2008, 2:07 PM

    @hannah: Thanks for showing my readers exactly what we’re all up against in fighting for peace, justice, tolerance & ethnic-understanding in the Middle East.

    I’ll tell you what, I’ll get my blog off the internet if you promise not to darken the web ever again with your own nasty rantings.

  • hannah December 14, 2008, 7:18 PM

    You avoided the points I made. Not surprised….

  • Richard Silverstein December 15, 2008, 12:55 AM

    @hannah: Oh, you mean calling me a “self-hating, unproud Jew” was a serious comment worthy of response? Shoot, I thought it was just a cheap shot, low blow overused insult common to the militant pro-Israel crowd. I didn’t realize you actually expected me to engage with your narischkeit.

    Next time you actually want to make a substantive argument that has some real content I might actually do so.

  • hannah December 15, 2008, 3:54 PM

    Seems like I touched a raw nerve, sorry about that.
    Just answer this, do you think the terrorists would’ve spared you, a Jew, because you stand for peace?
    Perhaps you will choose not to answer because this is completely rhetorical. You know very well that these terrorists are blood-thirsty murderers and the only thought they give before murdering another, is how to execute their plans.

  • hannah December 17, 2008, 9:39 PM

    Correction – A Zochen Vay.
    Last I know, my zochen (zuken) are in the dirty laundry.
    Az, Uch un Vey is the correct phrase.
    What did you think “A Zochen Vay” means?

  • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2008, 12:16 AM

    @hannah: Thanks for the correction. What’s the literal meaning of the translation? I understand the sense of the phrase & how it’s used in conversation & I know vay means pain or suffering.

  • hannah December 18, 2008, 1:50 PM

    az = that
    uch is a synonym of vay.
    The words are phrased together. The best definition I can give is that it expresses a more dramatic “Oy vay”

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