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Orphaned son of slain rabbi arrives in Israel

An Israeli Air Force jet left India for Israel Monday carrying the 2-year-old orphan of a rabbi and his wife who were slain in the Mumbai Jewish center attack.
Image: Moshe Holtzberg
Two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg is given a kiss by his grandmother during a memorial ceremony for his parents who were killed in a terrorist attack on a Jewish center in Mumbai, India.Uriel Sinai / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The cries of little Moshe Holtzberg wounded hearts Monday at a tearful memorial for his parents in India. "Mommy, mommy, mommy!" he wailed, clutching a toy basketball while squirming in the arms of mourners at the Mumbai synagogue.

Then the toddler and the caretaker who rescued him from the terrorist attack boarded a jet along with the bodies of his parents and four other Jews slain at the Chabad House to fly to Israel — a place the curly-haired 2-year-old had never seen.

The wrenching scene at the service played over and over again on Israeli television as government officials, Chabad leaders and relatives prepared for the funerals of the victims the future of the orphaned Moshe.

The Israeli air force plane landed at Israel's international airport just before midnight and Israeli officials joined relatives and friends of the victims for a state ceremony there.

Moshe's slain parents, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and Rivka, 28, ran the headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement in Mumbai. They were among six Israeli citizens killed at the center during the city's three-day terror siege.

In all, more than 170 died in attacks on targets across the Indian city.

Rescued by nanny
Moshe was spirited out of the center on Thursday by Sandra Samuel, a nanny who worked there for years. She found him crying beside his parents' bodies, his pants drenched in blood.

This undated handout photo received on December 1, 2008 courtesy of shows Moshe Holtzberg with his father Rabbi Gavriel, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, India. Holtzberg and and his wife Rivkah Holtzberg, also co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch, were killed in the attacks on Mumbai, on November 28, 2008. The couple's son Moshe, who turned two on November 29, was rescued from the attack by their nanny, and has been handed over to his grandparents. AFP PHOTO/CHABAD.ORG/HANDOUT/RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE =GETTY OUT= (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)

"I don't know that he can comprehend or that he will remember seeing his parents shot in cold blood," said Robert Katz, a New York-based fundraiser for Migdal Ohr, an Israeli orphanage founded by the boy's family.

Moshe was accompanied to Israel by his maternal grandparents, Yehudit and Shimon Rosenberg, who had flown to Mumbai on Friday. Samuel came along, too, to provide the dazed child a familiar face as he starts his new life.

When terrorists seized Chabad House, Samuel locked herself in a laundry room, then she heard Moshe's mother screaming "Sandra, help!" Then the screaming stopped, and it was quiet, Katz said.

She cracked open the door of her hiding place and saw a deserted staircase. She ran up one flight and found the rabbi and his wife, covered in blood and shot to death. She snatched up the crying boy, bolted down the stairs and ran out of the building.

"She's been there with him throughout," Katz said.

Though Samuel had no passport or papers, Moshe's granduncle, Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman, helped arrange for her to get a visa to Israel. In a sad coincidence, Grossman is founder of the Migdal Ohr orphanage.

At the memorial service in Mumbai, Rosenberg struggled to deal with the deaths of his daughter and son-in-law as his grandson cried nearby. "The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord," he said, quoting the Book of Job.

Couple lived in Brooklyn
Moshe's father was a dual American-Israeli citizen and his mother was Israeli. The couple lived in Israel and Brooklyn before they moved to Mumbai in 2003.

It was unclear who would who get custody of Moshe, Chabad officials said, though the closely knit ultra-Orthodox outreach group would provide a large safety net.

The toddler has an older sibling who has Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder particularly prevalent in Jews of Eastern European origin. He is permanently hospitalized in Israel, Katz said. The couple's first-born child died of Tay-Sachs.

The Foreign Ministry said the government would arrange funerals for those killed in Mumbai and send representatives to the ceremonies, as it does for victims of attacks at home.

"There are going to be thousands of people at this funeral," said Katz, executive vice president of Migdal Ohr's fundraising arm in New York. "This couple wasn't living in the West Bank. They weren't settlers. They weren't occupying anyone's land. They were killed because they were Jews, simple and plain."