Now, dispute over Nariman House

At issue is who will oversee the renovation of the building that housed the centre — the family of the rabbi who was killed there along with his wife, or its parent denomination, Chabad-Lubavitch. Also in dispute is how the building, Nariman House, will be used once construction is complete.

At a news conference at the scaffold-clad building on Wednesday, the parents of the rabbi said they recently started renovating Nariman House on their own because the denomination was not moving fast enough.

But Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic group based in Brooklyn, has obtained a court order to stop the work, and the Bombay High Court will now determine who is responsible for the building, which was badly damaged during a bloody three-day assault.

Indo-Pak tension

Ten Pakistan-based terrorists attacked a busy train station, two five-star hotels, Nariman House and other places in Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008, killing at least 163 people. The attacks heightened tensions between India and Pakistan.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were killed along with four other Jews at Nariman House, a five-story building in southern Mumbai. An Indian nanny saved their then nearly 2-year-old son, Moshe, by spiriting him out of the building.

Nachman and Freida Holtzberg, Gavriel’s parents, said that they were determined to renovate and reopen Nariman House, which they say belongs to an Indian trust created by their son. As guardians of their son’s child, they have asserted that they are entitled to oversee the renovation.

“I want it to come back and have it be better and bigger,” Holtzberg said. He added that he waited a year and a half for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement to start renovations, and when it did not, he and his wife decided to begin on their own with the help of local supporters.

Indian newspapers have reported that Holtzberg’s camp has also criticised Chabad-Lubavitch for mismanaging money that was donated for the centre’s rebuilding, a charge that the group called “outrageous and absolutely false.”

Holtzberg and a Mumbai-based Israeli businessman, Eliran Russo, who is working closely with him, declined to answer questions about those allegations, which were reportedly made in a court affidavit.

Chabad-Lubavitch officials said they were forced to seek the court’s intervention because the renovation undertaken by the family posed a safety threat. They added that the group signed a contract with a construction company for the building’s renovation as early as June.

“It’s sometimes arduous to endure the long time it takes to acquire all the permits and other things necessary to ensure proper safety,” said Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch, “but we are adamant about ensuring that all construction is done legally and safely, both from a security perspective as well as a structural one.”
Another disagreement between the Holtzbergs and Chabad appears to be about how Nariman House should be used once it has been rehabilitated.

Chabad officials say they want the building to serve as a memorial and space for functions, and to be available as a home for Moshe if he someday chooses to become a rabbi in Mumbai. But the group’s plans do not appear to include using the house as a residence and the denomination’s primary centre. The Holtzberg family did not provide their detailed vision for the building, but they seem to want it to remain the hub for all Chabad activities in Mumbai. They lit candles at the centre to commemorate the attacks and hosted an open house on Thursday.


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