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Asia

The emotional re-opening of Mumbai's Jewish center

Rabbis from across Asia commemorated the re-opening of a Jewish center in Mumbai, which was attacked in 2008 by Pakistan-based terrorists. For the Indian Jewish community, it was an overwhelmingly emotional moment.

25 rabbis from across Asia - including some from Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong - came to Mumbai on Tuesday, August 26, to commemorate the historic re-opening of the Chabad House Jewish cultural centre.

The attacks on the building and other iconic locations in India's financial capital six years ago claimed the lives of 166 people. Among them were six people from the center, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife - founders of the Chabad House. Indian forces regained control of the Jewish center several days later and killed two gunmen there.

For the past two years, the caretakers of the center, Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky and his wife Chaya, have been working very hard to transform the damaged building into a monument of peace and hope. The Jewish center houses a synagogue, a renovated cafeteria, and a hall for community functions.

In 2003, Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife established the Chabad House for Israeli backpackers, international Jewish businessmen, and the local Indian Jewish community of about 5000 people.

An Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during gun battle between Indian military and militants inside the hotel in Mumbai, India (Photo: David Guttenfelder, File/AP/dapd)

In 2012, India executed Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 attacks

Chabad House has a presence in many Asian countries. It is part of the global Chabad-Lubavitch network, which is considered the largest and fastest-growing Jewish organization. Today, 4,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families, or shluchim, operate 3,500 institutions in more than 80 countries.

'A message to the world'

For Rabbi Kozlovsky and his wife, the re-opening of the refurbished six-storey Chabad House was a truly emotional moment.

"We lost a dear friend (Rabbi Holtzberg) in the attacks and our memories are with his family. But it is also a moment to rejoice," Kozlovsky told DW from Mumbai.

Kozlovsky and his wife have taken meticulous care of the restoration of the building that includes plans for a 2.5 million USD museum. Two floors of the center, bearing the signs of the damage from gunfire and grenades, will be part of it. Video messages, newspaper articles and photographs of the deceased will be exhibited to common people.

"We will continue to expand," said Kozolovsky.

"There are already many activities underway, but they will now take place in other premises too," Rabbi Motti Seligson, Chabad House's media relations director, told DW.

After the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the center started conducting spiritual services and other activities in temporary locations.

"I think it (the re-opening) is a message to the whole world," Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch - the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, told DW. "It is a message that evil will not prevail, and that you can overcome challenges, even the most difficult ones. This project serves as a beacon of light and hope," he added.

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