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Rabbi, wife 'spread Jewish pride' in Mumbai

  • Story Highlights
  • Rabbi, his wife are among five hostages found dead at a Jewish center in Mumbai
  • The couple came to India five years ago to serve the city's small Jewish community
  • The Holtzbergs operated a synagogue and taught Torah classes
  • About 5,000 Jews reportedly live in India -- 3,000 of them in Mumbai
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(CNN) -- Chabad House served as both a Jewish center and a rabbi's home, in Mumbai, India, but the building turned into a scene of carnage this week after five hostages held by gunmen inside were found dead.

Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were among the victims, said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch International in the United States.

A cook at the center, who had barricaded herself in a room, grabbed one of the couple's two children -- 2-year-old Moshe -- and escaped with another person, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The couple's other child was not in Mumbai at the time and is safe, said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of the educational and social services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Video Watch Rabbi Krinsky say the child will be raised by the community »

The Holtzbergs came to Mumbai five years ago to serve the city's small Jewish community and the thousands of Israeli visitors and businessmen who frequent the area, according to Chabad.org, the ultra-Orthodox group's Web site.

"As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, in a statement.

"Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started." Video Watch as gunshots are heard at the Chabad House »

Some 5,000 Jews live in India, according to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. About 3,000 of them live in Mumbai, The Jewish Press reported.

The Holtzbergs operated a synagogue and taught Torah classes. The rabbi also conducted weddings for local Jewish couples.

Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, was born in Israel and moved to Brooklyn, New York, when he was 9. He studied in New York and Argentina and traveled to Thailand and China as a rabbinical student.Video Watch: Rabbi and wife killed in Mumbai »

His wife, Rivka, 28, was a native of Israel.

In Mumbai, they ran the headquarters of the Chabad community, a Hasidic Jewish movement. The center, in a building known as the Nariman House in Mumbai, was open to anyone who wanted a place to pray, eat kosher food or celebrate Jewish holidays.

"It was a thriving hub of goodness and kindness," Krinsky said. He wiped away tears as he spoke about the couple during a news conference Friday in New York.Video Watch Rabbi Krinsky talked about Holtzberg »

In footage filmed two years ago by the Chabad movement, Gavriel Holtzberg said anybody who visited the center was welcome. His wife said its doors were always open and described how it wasn't unusual to have 30 people for dinner.

Krinsky called the couple's killing "a brutal murder of two of our finest" and an act caused by hatred. He also urged the movement's emissaries around the world to keep strong.

"You know how to face adversity and challenges," Krinsky said. "Continue to forge ahead with courage and fortitude in the service of our people and mankind to make this world a better place to live for all."

The word Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for chachmah-wisdom, binah-comprehension and da'at-knowledge, according to the group's Web site.

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The Chabad-Lubavitch movement was formed more than two centuries ago in Russia.

"Today 4,000 full-time emissary families apply 250-year-old principles and philosophy to direct more than 3,300 institutions (and a work force that numbers in the tens of thousands) dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide," according to Chabad.org.

CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

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