Nov 7, 2018
Mumbai, Bonei Olam and Our Rivky

Rikal and Mordechai Kaler recall how they were blessed with a child with the help of their sister and brother-in-law, Mumbai Shluchim Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg and Bonei Olam.

By Yochanan Gordon
For The 5 Towns Jewish Times


If Paul Revere would have been at Rockland Community College this past Sunday evening he surely would have bellowed, “The black-coats are here!” But contrary to the screams warning the colonials of the impending Redcoat invasion, the piety and positivity that the shluchim, in their traditional black kapotes, and their enthusiasts brought to Monsey, NY, on Sunday, November 4, was cause for celebration rather than concern.

The theme of this year’s kinus was based on a verse in Psalms, “Ki gavar aleinu chasdo,” and was a testament to the great love, selflessness, and dedication that the shluchim bestow upon their constituents with each encounter, day in and day out. In the words of 34-year-old Israeli-Georgian billionaire Yitzchak Mirilashvili, who headlined Sunday’s kinus, it is this dedication and self-sacrifice that money cannot buy. Mirilashvili’s awareness of the value of Chabad’s work has compelled him, through his charitable foundation, to contribute, without fanfare, in the tens of millions to Chabad causes around the globe.

The format of the kinus consisted of a creative interface between live stories and state-of-the-art, high-definition video production recounting stories of people whose lives were impacted and in some cases even transformed by the care and concern of the Rebbe and his shluchim. In what was perhaps one of the most gripping accounts of the evening, cousins Mendel Klein and Hirsch Meir Oberlander, children of shluchim in Moscow and Budapest, respectively, narrated the story of their grandfather, Moshe Lazar, whose family escaped Germany after Hitler’s ascension to power.

Rabbi Lazar retells how the Rebbe was a father figure to him and many other Jews of that era who came to these shores and beheld the enormity of the destruction and devastation that the Holocaust had upon world Jewry. At one point, after being employed at Chabad in Brooklyn but feeling unfulfilled, Rabbi Lazar requested more meaningful work. Instead of telling him what to do, the Rebbe responded to the letter by instructing Rabbi Lazar himself to offer suggestions of the work that he felt needed to be done, realizing that in that way he will ultimately feel most fulfilled. Shortly after marrying, Rabbi Lazar was asked to move on shlichus to Italy where he would work under Rabbi and Mrs. Garelik who are approaching sixty years of shlichus together.

But while there is a lot that can be written about the kinus and the various presentations that were given, I wanted to use this space to portray a fundamental understanding of shluchim and shlichus, but one that despite its basic nature will come across as unique. This angle is inspired by an astounding story in the form of a WhatsApp video that made its rounds earlier in the week.

With the tenth anniversary of the devastating attacks in Mumbai, India, which took the lives of six victims holed up that night in the Nariman House, including shluchim Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, Hy’d, Rabbi Holtzberg’s sister and brother-in-law, Rikal and Mordechai Kaler, sat down to share a story that had happened around that time.

The story opens in the year 2005, a few years after Mordechai Kaler’s marriage to Rikal Holtzberg. Despite presuming that parenthood would follow shortly after their marriage, with the passage of time and the realization that they were not conceiving, the couple grew anxious. Despite doctors’ early assurances that the couple was healthy and that there was nothing in the way of becoming parents, it seemed that unexplained infertility was the grim prognosis. That was just devastating to the young couple looking forward to building a family together.

Through everything that the Kalers were going through there were always two people who provided a shoulder to cry on and were a rock of support and encouragement when they were about to throw in the towel—Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. Mordechai and Rikal were accustomed to calling their older siblings on shlichus in Mumbai prior to or following a yom tov or an occasion of sorts to check in on how things were going for them and to glean guidance towards navigating their young lives together. One such occasion was Chai Elul in 2008, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe. This day on the Chassidic calendar is traditionally marked with a farbrengen, so the siblings spent a few minutes reflecting on the holiday. In the course of the conversation, the Kalers informed the Holtzbergs that they planned to take a break from all the doctors and treatments due to the overwhelming nature of their situation. However, Rabbi Gabi contended that the couple needed to try harder and advised that they contact Bonei Olam, an organization known for assisting couples in navigating through the labyrinth of infertility. He blessed them that they would merit to see the birth of their first child within the year. With that, the call ended.

With a renewed sense of hope and encouragement, the couple contacted Bonei Olam and they were assigned a very good, caring, and compassionate doctor in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the first couple rounds of testing were unsuccessful and they decided to undergo a more invasive battery of tests as a means of getting to the core of the issue. The first day of the more invasive testing was November 26, 2008, which will be remembered in infamy as the day Pakistani terrorists attacked multiple locations throughout Mumbai, including the Chabad Nariman House. Mordechai recalls how they received a frantic call from a family member that something had happened in Mumbai and that Gabi and Rivky were inaccessible. He continues that they found themselves a couple of days later on an airplane to India and simultaneously were informed that the more invasive tests were unsuccessful.

Once again, in a whirlwind of emotion with everything that had been transpiring in their lives, they informed the Bonei Olam case manager as soon as they returned from India that they needed to take a break and regain their strength and composure before re-embarking on this path toward parenthood. The case manager replied, “Gabi and Rivky brought you this far, and they certainly would not want you to stop on account of what happened to them.”

Mordechai said that they knew the case manager was correct, and so they expended every last ounce of strength to attend the following appointment. Two weeks later they received a call from the doctor while driving on a highway somewhere, informing them that Rikal was pregnant. An unbelievable feeling of euphoria compelled Mordechai to pull over to the side of the road, where he began bawling uncontrollably. Just nine months later, on Chai Elul, a year to the day of Gabi’s blessing, they merited the birth of their eldest, Rivky. Nineteen months later their daughter Rosie was born, followed by Sarah Esther, Gabi, and Ari. All of them, aside from Rosie, were born the week of Chai Elul.

Video: The Kaler's story


This story impacted me deeply and caused me to think or perhaps rationalize what had occurred. We are used to hearing stories of tzaddikim blessing people in all sorts of situations and of those blessings materializing. My initial thought was that Gabi and Rivky were truly unique individuals. I recall seeing videos of them in the aftermath of the tragedy that portrayed the type of people we’re not used to hearing about, including the sacrifices they made by going off to India, such as Gabi having to slaughter more than 1,000 chickens a week to accommodate the stream of visitors who passed through his Chabad house regularly. And then it hit me that this is the life of a shliach.

What is a shliach? Many of us can recall learning the sugya of shlichus in Gittin or Kiddushin or other tractates, and for some reason the definition doesn’t leave the realm of academia and reach the realm of reality. But when the Rebbe built the worldwide system of shlichus, there is no doubt that the sugya of shlichus was firmly affixed in his mind. Of course, I am referring to the mechanism of shlucho shel adam kemoso, that one who is sent as a messenger is viewed as an extension of the person who sent him. Now, the truth is that there are additional nuances at play here that many of the commentators discuss at length, all of which are critical in understanding the true makeup of the messenger. But there is one important criterion in all of this that needs to be fulfilled for the messenger to be a manifestation of the one who sent him—he needs to remain faithful to the mission he was sent on. There is much more to this detail than it might seem.

Perhaps another story will convey this message. In 1937, while the Rebbe was studying in Paris, the Friediker Rebbe would send him on various communal missions. On this particular mission, he was to visit Rav Chaim Oizer of Grodzinsky in Vilna in order to co-sign a letter of great importance. When the Ramash, as he was referred to prior to becoming Rebbe, arrived, Reb Chaim Oizer was meeting with Reb Boruch Ber, so he sat in the beis midrash to wait until their meeting would be over. While he waited there, a few bachurim in the beis midrash noticed that he was a chassid and decided to harass him a little. They asked him pointed questions on various subjects throughout Shas and so on. But the Ramash, despite a number of provocations, refused to respond.

All the while, Reb Chaim Oizer was looking on from his office and then beckoned the Ramash to enter. The Ramash went inside and before anything else, he began answering all the questions that he had been asked while waiting for the rosh yeshiva. Reb Chaim Oizer asked the Ramash why he had refused to answer the bachurim who asked him these questions. The Ramash replied, “I didn’t come to hold debates with anybody. However, I noticed that the rosh yeshiva observed the questions, and I grew concerned that my failure to answer may have a negative impact on the mission given to me by my father-in-law; I therefore felt it was necessary to clear this up prior to presenting the reason I was sent here in the first place.”

If you’re involved in the sugya of shlichus and you are trying to conceive in your mind’s eye just what a shliach al pi Torah looks like, you have it right there. That is called unflinching dedication to a mission. With that in mind, I began to understand how Gabi could bless his sister and brother-in-law with a child, a berachah that was not only fulfilled once but a number of times.

These were some of the thoughts occupying my headspace as I sat amongst 4,000+ shluchim on Sunday night in Rockland Community College. Perhaps you’re wondering how Chabad continues to grow and break ground 24 years after the Rebbe’s passing. The answer is that with 4,800 representatives whose lives are unflinchingly dedicated to furthering the Rebbe’s vision of a perfected world, these 4,800 shluchim are in a sense 4,800 Rebbes who themselves should be able to see their blessings materialize as manifestations of the Rebbe who sent them.


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Opinions and Comments
1
Wow
so incredible, brought me to tears.
may we merit to have the coming of moshiach and be reunited with Gabi and Rivky!
(11/7/2018 7:46:51 PM)
2
Wow
Brought me to tears... and that does not happen often.
Thank you for sharing this story of hope and miracles and may all those who need the Bracha of healthy children, be answered in their Zchus!
(11/7/2018 8:17:45 PM)
3
what a moving story
thank you so much for sharing your story, rikal and mordechai
(11/7/2018 8:20:00 PM)
4
Very nice
Wow beauituful story. So happy for them
(11/7/2018 8:21:02 PM)
5
Such a moving story
Thanks for posting it, may we merit the geula and see gabi and rivky now!!
(11/7/2018 8:31:40 PM)
6
So inspiring
I never comment to articles.
But i can't hold back from writing something...
Thank you so much for sharing!
(11/7/2018 9:34:01 PM)
7
Amazing!
Thank you for sharing!
(11/7/2018 9:48:03 PM)
8
B”H
So beautiful
(11/7/2018 10:24:11 PM)
9
Keep Sharing
The Holtzberg's lived the Rebbe's dream; they truly brought G-dliness into so many people's lives, even after the tragedy.

May we all take on something to carry on their good work
(11/7/2018 10:37:08 PM)
10
What A Beautiful Story!
Made me tear up.
(11/8/2018 10:03:29 AM)
11
big Z Schapiro
wow beautiful story thank you for sharing
(11/8/2018 11:55:08 AM)
12
Rikal
That is huge!!! Much nachas from your gorgeous family!
(11/8/2018 2:12:27 PM)
13
Wow!!!!
Wow wow wow!!!!! What a special and beautiful miracle!!!!
Chasdei Hashem ki lo Samnu!!!!!
(11/8/2018 4:28:26 PM)
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