Sabbath Respite From the Mumbai Chaos

Only the sanctity of Shabbat could have kept members of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement from following the news of the terror siege of the Chabad House in Mumbai last week.

For almost two days in a row, the people behind the three Hebrew-language Chabad Web sites chased down every last bit of information, collected every relevant photograph and video, every statement, even the sound of every gun shot heard in the Mumbai center - and transmitted it to thousands of tense readers around the world.

But then, at the most critical moment, the editors were forced to shut down their computers and let doubt reign: As Shabbat was about to begin Friday, the three sites went off line, after telling their readers that five hostages were dead and calling on women to pray for the rest of the hostages and the Chabad emissaries, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, after lighting the candles.

Yair Borochov, the editor of Chabad site Shturem Net, said he had received an unconfirmed report before Shabbat that the Holtzbergs had been killed, but did not want to publish it.

"We had the information that they were killed, but we didn't dare publish it until there was official information," he said. "Everyone wants a spark of hope."

"How could I write that the emissaries were killed?" Borochov asked. "At 4:15 P.M. we had to shut down the computers, and even though there were indications, we didn't write they were dead. I went to synagogue and people asked me, 'Maybe there's hope?' What could I tell them? We knew the truth in secret, but until I turned on the computer after Shabbat, I myself didn't know for sure. It's good there was Shabbat - it was an island in the midst of the insanity."

Sharon Goshen, editor of COL-Chabad On Line, said he found it tough to write about the Holtzbergs' deaths, which he reported after Shabbat.

"On Friday, when we realized that it was over, I couldn't write they had died," he explained. "We wrote a report about the five fatalities and we closed up shop. Writing about the fact they were killed was very difficult. I know Gabi personally, know the families. At Chabad, everyone knows everyone else."

Three-day terror rampage

The Holtzbergs, both dual Israeli-American citizens, were among five Israelis and a Mexican Jewish woman killed while being held hostage in the Chabad House during a three-day terror rampage in India's financial capital. At least 174 people were killed during the siege.

Once the three Chabad sites did update their readers with news of the deaths, they ran black headlines, and two of them added pictures of candles. All the sites said their readership doubled or even tripled during the crisis, causing the networks to crash.

"Massacre at Chabad House," screamed the Shturem Net special logo. And, "Pictures from the inferno: This is how Chabad House looks after the pogrom."

COL went with "Testimony of terror: Bloody Torah scrolls," "Deadly mission," and "Inside the battle: Pictures."

The third Web site, Chabad Info, which is run by Chabad members who believe the last Lubavitcher rebbe - Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who died in 1994 - is still alive, stayed true to its Messianic leanings, running a headline that began "The rebbe screamed."

Now the sites are getting ready to broadcast the Holtzbergs' funerals, which will set out from Kfar Chabad tomorrow.

"We'll broadcast the funeral live, without a doubt," said Goshen. "We already installed cameras on the roof of building 770 in Kfar Chabad, where the funeral procession will leave. I don't think we'll put a helicopter in the air, but we'll certainly bring every angle from Kfar Chabad."