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'Our revenge will be light and good deeds'

That was the message from the rabbi at the funeral of my fellow Brooklynites Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, slain at the Chabad House in Mumbai, where they extended the familiar intense welcome of the Lubavitch Hasidic community (familiar to anyone who's ever encountered their street emissaries here) to Jews and others in that exotic port now scarred by terrorism. They extended that "threat" to those who orphaned the Holtzbergs' two surviving children and killed a third, still unborn. This family, who accepted every one of their children as a precious gift from God, (including, apparently, two youngsters before toddler Moishe who inherited the devastating disorder Tay-Sachs), has become, in their destruction by blind hatred, a rallying point for love--for what my Roman Catholic tradition calls heroic virtue.

I needed to hear that, because this holy day season, I find myself short on the spirit of the stable at Bethlehem. I am feeling more like Clint Eastwood in his "Ask yourself, do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" phase. I want to blow up the people who blow people up. I want to trample the wide-screen-TV-lusting morons who trample a hard-working Haitian temp trying to make a minimum-wage buck in the pre-dawn hours at a Long Island Wal-Mart. I want to see the heads of the U.S. automakers work at Wal-Mart...on Black Friday...because they cranked out Hummers when what we needed was Mini Coopers and bicycle lanes. I want CitiBank to give us a bailout, not the other way around, because we ran up our debt being elder caregivers, not weasels and high-stakes gamblers.

I guess it's a pretty obvious irony that the spirit of the original CrazyStable should return to me via the Jews (and not just any Jews, but this manic and fractious sect, with their messianic subsect who await the imminent return of dear old Rabbi Schneerson). At home here in Brooklyn, how are our Catholic bishops responding to the dark swirling news in this alleged season of light? Well, they're pondering how to shut down a good chunk of our Catholic parochial schools with as little negative P.R. as possible, a forward-looking project with the Orwellian name "Preserving the Vision." (Or is it "Visioning the Preserve?" Oh well, same deal: Say goodbye to the Bells of St. Mary's and hello to some new lease opportunities for the public schools, once they knock down the crosses from the roofs.) Theologically, I short-circuit when I want to blow up bishops--apostolic succession and all that--making my frustration even greater.

And so I turn to our zealous Jewish brothers and sisters to remind me what the Christmas season is really all about. Here, from the inspiring supersite Chabad.org, is a description of what it was like to stay with Gavriel and Rivky in Mumbai:

On my second Shabbat at Chabad, Rivky told me there were two Israeli men staying at the house who were just released from an Indian prison. When I saw these men sitting at the dinner table, I was startled. One man had only a front tooth and a raggedy pony tail, and the other looked like an Israeli version of Rambo. I observed the way that Gabi interacted with them and how they were welcomed at the Shabbat table the same way everyone else was, and my fears melted away. Over the course of the night, I learned that these men were not the only prisoners or ex-convicts the Holtzberg's helped. Gabi frequently brought Kosher meals to Israelis in prison, spent time with them, listened to their life stories, and took them in after their release.

The Holtzbergs, said this witness, "took their jobs as shlichim (emissaries) very seriously. Their lives never stopped. There was no such thing as 'personal space' or 'down time'. The phones rang constantly, people came in and out like a subway station, and all the while Rivky and Gabi were calm, smiling, warm, and welcomed everyone like family."

On Chabad.org, you can immediately contribute to the "revenge" of light and good deeds by making a cyberpledge of a mitzvah. I clicked "lighting Sabbath candles," because we started lighting our Advent wreath this week. I don't think Gavriel and Rivky would be too "orthodox" to reject that entry, do you?  My thanks to the Lubavitchers for reminding me of a path beyond my Clint Eastwood fantasies. Maybe when you believe the Messiah has already come two millenia ago, you get complacent.


Image, top: Chabad.org
Posted on Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at 11:01AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for writing this post.Well said.
December 3, 2008 at 02:40PM | Unregistered CommenterLaurelO
Thank you for this post, heartrending and ironic at once in your imitable style. I love the Lubavitchers, having had the good fortune to teach some Chabad students at City College, and have often thought they had a mystical joy in God and in each other that my co-religionists sorely lack.
December 3, 2008 at 11:03PM | Unregistered CommenterPentimento

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