Swatties Respond to the Mumbai Attacks

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On November 26 in Mumbai, India, terrorists attacked several prominent Mumbai landmarks. Over the course of a three-day siege, over 170 people lost their lives. On December 2 and 3, vigils were held for the victims of these attacks and on December 12, an open Shabbat service will honor the memory of those lost. In a series of interviews with the Daily Gazette, several members of the Swarthmore community reflect on the attacks and the implications of moving forward.

Shaila Chhibba ’10 and Maithili Parikh ‘10

At Wednesday evening’s vigil, Shaila Chhibba ’10 and Maithili Parikh ’10 offered their reflections on the attacks in Mumbai. Parikh spoke movingly of Mumbai as “my city, the city I was born and brought up in, the city I love, the city that is a part of me even today as I stand thousands of miles away.”

Chhibba, in an e-mail interview with the Gazette, expanded on her response to the attacks: “When I first heard that there had been terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I assumed that they would be of the kind carried out in the past- suicide bombs or bombs placed in crowded areas of the city.

“However, as I got more information about exactly what was going on, it was clear that these attacks were very different in their nature and while they may not have had a specific purpose other than to create fear and chaos, they were sending a message in the groups of people that were targeted in the hotels.”

Parikh explained the significance of the various places struck by the terrorists, The Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Leopold Café, Metro Cinema, the Oberoi Hotel, as symbols “not just to Mumbaikars, but to the rest of India and the rest of the world.” However, Parikh concluded by stressing not the destruction but the strength of Mumbai.

In an e-mail, Parikh restated, “I would like to focus on the unity and strength of my city, and the countless stories of heroic acts by security forces, hotel staff, passerbys, that give me faith, and I feel will help heal Mumbai.

Parikh recounted a story at the vigil, as told to her by Tarini Kumar ’12, whose aunt and uncle, Sunil and Reshma Parekh, lost their lives the attacks. “A stranger prayed for five minutes in front of a picture that she [Tarini] held of her aunt and uncle, when someone observing asked ‘Tere the?’ (Were they yours?) The stranger replied, ‘Sabke the’ (They were everyone’s.)”

Rabbi Eli Gurevitz

Rabbi Eli Gurevitz’s friend and classmate, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzber, and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg, were among those who died at Nariman House, the first Chabad house in Mumbai. Rabbi Gurevitz led a prayer service for the victims of the attacks on Tuesday evening and this Friday, December 12 at 5:45 in Chabad House will be having a Unity Shabbat Dinner in tribute to the victims of the attack. The dinner is open to all Tri-Co students.

In an interview with the Gazette, Rabbi Gurevitz described how “We have to figure out how to turn the tears into action.”

“It’s important to realize that when such events occur, yes, it’s a tragedy for the Indian people and the Jewish people, but it’s a tragedy for every decent human being.”

He shared the story of how the child of Rabbi Holtzberg was saved by his nanny. “She really risked her life. She knew that gunshots were being fired but she was able to really internalize what happened and when she heard him cry, she went to him. We have to take the lessons of really heroic action.”

“My friend Gabi, this was a person who could have lived in the United States and he chose to live in a far away place to help people. He was truly, truly selfless. He didn’t have a lot of money. He was investing in people with goodness and kindness and love.”

Rabbi Gurevitz reflected on the “really ultimate extreme of clashes … to see [Rabbi Gavriel and his wife] brutally murdered by people who promotion is of destruction and death. It calls everyone to ask questions. We don’t know why things happen.

“We need to increase in kindness, really help friends, that would be our answer to such kinds of events.”

“If you just cry it will fade in a couple of months, a couple of years. But we can take on concrete, positive actions, an increase of positive actions and caring. It will take a while but our job is not to finish the work … Our job is just to do good.”

Rabbi Gurevitz expanded that this is central to the Chabad House’s mission, both in Mumbai and here in Swarthmore. “We’re not a political organization. We serve as a resource to Jewish people. Our mission is not to influence policy in India. Our mission is to really increase in light. Don’t push away darkness with sticks, stones, guns … Dispel darkness by increasing the light. Somehow we can do more.”

He added that Chabad leadership has already decided to rebuild the Chabad house in Mumbai and reminded that at a local level, all members of the Swarthmore community are welcome to come to the Shabbat dinner on Friday evening.

“As a personal loss it is tremendous and I know myself and many of my colleagues and friends had a sleepless week. I still can’t understand how it happened to someone like him and to his wife … He was a real do-er. The only comfort we can find is by doing positive actions: helping people, bring comfort to us and to the souls of the people who were unfortunately lost before their time.”

Rahul Garg ‘11

Rahul Garg ’11 shared his reactions to the attacks, recalling that when he first found out about the attacks in Mumbai, “I was just glued to the television.” He explained, “These are the safest places in India’s most developed city. It makes you feel very vulnerable. There was, a couple of months ago, a bomb blast in a Delhi market where I spend a lot of time with my friends. That was frightening.”

Garg contrasted the terrorist attacks with other violent attacks like campus shootings. “There is a difference, these were very well trained people. Most normal police can’t respond to this. You can’t put army commandos in hotels, market places, you would have a military state … It makes us vulnerable when we do not want to give up our civil liberties.”

“The terrorists fired indiscriminately,” Garg stressed. “Every class, every religion.”

Considering the responses, Garg was touched by the attendance of the vigil and reflected on India’s response. “Most of the anger is directed to domestic politics in India. Everyone knows that they are corrupt but it is that they were so incompetent in this.” Garg cites three major failings: an intelligence failure, the coast left unguarded, and the time taken by commandos to reach Mumbai.”

Garg feels these are being addressed, yet, “The fact of the matter is, the terrorists were coming from somewhere … all of them were based in Pakistan. They weren’t supported by the Pakistani government. The civilian government had no knowledge. The Pakistani people themselves are being terrorized. They are as much victims as we are,” Garg said. He cited a division of authority and involvement of former military and intelligence leaders as among the problems which allow terrorist camps to exist in Pakistan.

Garg added, “Obama can say that we’re going to bomb Pakistan if they attack the United States but India can’t because of the nuclear arms agreement and India is not going to get into a full-fledged war with Pakistan. Unless there is international help, nothing can be done.”

“There is too much warmongering going on,” said Garg. “But there is a serious feeling of helplessness that is leading to this rage, there is actually a need to do something … This is about just trying to secure ourselves.”

Aakash Suchak ‘11

Aaskash Suchak ’11 wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette, “What happened in Mumbai is both shocking and irredeemable, an attack against humanity, and my response to it is a combination of disgust and lamentation. I deplore Mumbai’s attackers and their accomplices, and my deepest sympathies and affection go out to the citizens and families of Mumbai who were affected.

“Out commitments to world peace and unity need to be strongest now: the most meaningful defense against terrorism is unity. If I could speak to any of the victims or their families directly, I would ask them to keep their faith in mankind and in God, in the face of this attack, because otherwise, we have given these terrorists the sort of psychological shattering that they want.”

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