MUMBAI: "Is it safe to be here, all of us together?'' asked a Jewish woman before seating herself on a chair facing the Gateway of India. A retired colonel reassured her.
Fighting back fears of congregating at a public place, a sizeable number of Jews-both Indians and foreigners-came forward to attend a prayer
meeting organised by Chabad House on the occasion of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil.
While Moshe, the orphaned child of Rabbi Gavriel-who was claimed by the terror attack at Nariman House-was conspicuous by his absence, his grandparents-Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg-were among those present.
Several rabbis, members of the international Chabad Houses, descended from their cars to distribute black skull caps to the male Jewish
members in the audience, which they also helped them wear. A round of potato latkes, a traditional jewish sweet, ensured hospitality for the guests, among whom was Ved Prakash, general manager of the company looking after the reconstruction of Chabad House.
In the symbolic backdrop of the Gateway, a giant menorah
, a nine-branched candle stand (almost 20-ft tall) was set up and-as a man seated on a crane poured oil-Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky (from the Chabad headquarters in New York), took the podium.
In a speech rendered with ascending emotion that he addressed to the president and "peace-loving members of this country", Kotlarsky said, "We have assembled to light the menorah on the fifth day of the Hanukkah to celebrate the victory of the weak over the strong.''
Recalling the attacks that claimed the lives of the rabbi and his wife, who had moved to Mumbai to spread "goodness and kindness'', Kotlarsky said, "We mourn today the loss of these beacons of light.''
On the eve of the fifth day of Hanukkah, when majority of the menorah is lit up, Kotlarsky iterated, "We are committed to continuing the legacy of Rabbi Gavriel, and to fight terrorism not with AK-47s but by illuminating the darkness.''
He recalled seeing Moshe the previous night in Israel and said it as a pleasure watching him light the menorah. "We are not only committed to coming back but are also not leaving Mumbai,'' he announced, pumping his fist in the air and inviting Moshe's grandfather to light the menorah as a metaphor for overcoming the darkness.
When a crane lifted the elderly rabbi holding a candle, members of the audience stood in anticipation and clapped incessantly. As he lit the five wicks, Rosenberg recited Lighting the lights and Rock of ages-two Hanukkah prayers-while others joined in the chorus.
The rabbis then recited the evening sermon
, swaying back and forth, holding the holy book as members of the audience, including Moshe's grandmother, held each other in a circle, and performed the traditional song-and-dance Hanukkah prayer.
Thanks to the vigorous smoke-spitting flames of the menorah, the Gateway shone in a new hue. The flames were extinguished after the prayer.
It was at this point that Rabbi Altel Kubchik of Pune's Chabad House, who had known Rabbi Gavriel to be an "iron man", lit up his cigarette. "We are going to build more Chabad Houses in India. "That is our answer,'' he said.
Jews pray after lighting the Menorah in front of the Gateway of India.