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Chabad Jewish Center mourns couple slain in Mumbai

One after another, the candles flickered alive. In all, there were 175, one for each known victim of the terrorist attack that brought unforeseen death to Mumbai, India, last week.

"When a candle is extinguished, we have to light another candle. We cannot allow the darkness to set in,'' Rabbi Alter Korf said during a memorial service Monday at the Chabad Jewish Center in St. Petersburg.

For Korf and his wife, Chaya, the deaths of two people — Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28 — were particularly agonizing.

Like the couple who perished, Korf, 32, and his wife, 31, were nurtured by the close-knit Chabad-Lubavitch movement and became part of the 4,000-strong husband-and-wife emissary arm that provides education, religious and social services at Chabad centers across the United States and around the world.

"We're like one family,'' Chaya Korf said before the brief service during which some women dabbed their eyes and sniffed back tears.

The Holtzbergs were doing vital work at the Mumbai Chabad House, Rabbi Korf said.

"It was like Abraham and Sarah's tent that was open for everybody,'' he said.

The couple and several of their guests died when the Chabad center was attacked. Chaya Korf said she and her husband got word of the unfolding tragedy from her brother, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, who is based in Bangkok and oversees new Chabad centers in Southeast Asia.

During Monday's service, Korf urged the almost 60 people present "to counterbalance the negative and evil that exists in the world with acts of kindness and love to people around us and to people at large.''

Kate Fagan, a rabbinic chaplain at Bayfront Medical Center, was among those who attended the service. She felt compelled to be there to show respect for the lives and work of the late rabbi and his wife, she said.

"To travel all of that way and leave everything they know in order to be a Jewish presence in a place where there is very little. … I wanted to honor that and them and all of those people who died,'' she said.

"I needed a ritual to help me pass through it a little.''

Additionally, said Fagan, she wanted to support the Korfs.

The Korfs established the first Chabad Center in southern Pinellas County more than five years ago. At first they offered programs in their home and rented space for holiday celebrations. Three years ago they moved to a leased storefront at 6151 Central Ave., which they've outgrown. Now they are completing phase one of a relocation and expansion project at 4010 Park St. N. It should be finished in about six weeks, Korf said.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries like the Korfs volunteer for their role and are part of the Hasidic (pious) branch of Orthodox Judaism. Chabad (pronounced hah-bahd) is a Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The Lubavitch movement, headquartered in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, most recently was led by the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The emissary program grew out of his philosophy to embrace every single Jew wherever they live.

Last week, thousands of Chabad rabbis converged in New York for the group's international convention.

"Now, all of us are in mourning,'' Korf said in a prepared statement.

He has no answers for why the tragedy occurred and doesn't understand God's ways, the rabbi said.

"I know we are not expected to. I only know that we must continue (the Holtzbergs') life's work. They deserve no less.''

Several couples have volunteered to re-establish the Mumbai center, he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Chabad Jewish Center mourns couple slain in Mumbai 12/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 4:36pm]
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