Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Born In India, Doctor Has Jewish Spirit

by David Bedein

Jerusalem - Dr. Aharon Avraham opens his Jewish prayer book with trepidation.

His lips mouth the verses in Hebrew, his new language.

When he finally lifts his eyes from the page, his gaze stops at the framed photograph on the shelf. Dr. Avraham glances at the photograph of the couple who changed his life, and his eyes glimmer.

"I truly loved Rabbi Gabi and his wife Rivka," he sighs. "I miss them so much."

On Wednesday night, Dr. Avraham was one of the guests of honor at the central memorial ceremony held by Chabad's youth division to mark the first anniversary of the terror attack at the Chabad House in Mumbai in which six Israelis were murdered. Those attending the ceremony will also mark the third birthday of Moishie, the little son of Gabriel and Rivky Holtzberg. His parents, who were Chabad emissaries in the Indian city, were murdered by terrorists. Moishie survived.

This coming Thursday, the morning after the memorial ceremony, Dr. Avraham will mark one of the most meaningful days of his life. The 51-year-old physician, who was born to an Indian family, will remarry his wife Ruth-Malka, this time in a Jewish ceremony. In attendance will be the couple's three children, who converted together with them: Shmuel, 18, Sarah, 15 and Sharon, 10.

The ceremony will be held at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, fairly close to Kiryat Arba, a Jewish community close to Hebron, where the physician from India has made his home.

Dr. Avraham was born Bhagirath Prasad. Materially speaking, he was very well off. He excelled in his medical studies, became well-known and served as the director of the intensive-care department at the prestigious Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai.

Spiritually speaking, an abyss opened up in his heart. In his youth, he shrank from Hinduism, a polytheistic faith.

"I found no rest for my spirit because I felt that I did not believe in the true God," he said last night.

"Twenty years ago, I was exposed to the Bible and began to come close to Judaism. Over the past five years, I began to study the Torah and observe the commandments as a way of life. I changed my Indian name to a Jewish one, and I went to the Chabad House in Mumbai almost every day to study with Rabbi Gabi. Chabad House became my second home, until that terrible day."

Dr. Avraham will never forget Nov. 26, 2008, the day of the terror attack in Mumbai.

"I met with Rabbi Gabi and Rebbetzin Rivky almost every day," Dr. Avraham said. “

I was as close to them as family. On the day of terror attack, I was about 1,000 kilometers away from Mumbai. I remember that I prayed for a miracle, that the Holtzberg family wouldn't be harmed. On the way back to Mumbai, my thoughts ran wild: how to treat Gabi and Rivky if it turned out that they'd been wounded. But when I got there, I realized that of the whole family, only little Moishie had survived."

The massacre shocked Dr. Avraham to the depths of his soul.

He decided to immigrate to Israel with his wife and children.

"I got fed up with the corrupt way of life in India," he explains. "Relations with my family have remained very good. I don't believe in their religion, but I still have a great deal of love for them. They weren't happy with my decision, but accepted it in a good spirit. 'It's your life,' they told me."

Five months ago, the physician arrived in Israel. Today, he is crowded into a tiny apartment with his wife and their three children in Kiryat Arba.

Dr. Avraham says that no one is happier than he. "I'm thrilled anew every day that I live near Hebron, the second-holiest place to the Jewish people. Soon, when I get my Israeli medical license, I'll start working at the Kiryat Arba first-aid center. At the same time, I hope to be accepted for work at Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem."

View the original article in the Philadelphia Bulletin

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